“Then He said to him, ‘A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, “Come, for all things are now ready”‘” (Luke 14:16-17).
Over the years we have had many Islamic neighbors of Khulna Bible College come to our campus just before their major holidays asking for donations so they can better celebrate with feasts and sacrifices. What has intrigued me is that some of these same devout Muslims will return to ask for the same kind of assistance just before major Hindu or Christian celebrations. They usually explain, “We want to help you celebrate your holiday also.”
Very few people don’t enjoy a fun get-together with a big meal included. I definitely am not one of the hold-outs; just tell me when the dinner-bell rings and I will be there. That human tendency makes the rest of Jesus’ parable of the feast hard to understand. When the servant went to the invited guests to tell them it was time to assemble, he met apathy and resistance. Each made excuses: “I bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it;” “I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am going to test them;” and “I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come.”
Understandably these excuses angered the host. Though there may have been other reasons for his anger, it is hardly deniable that these were feeble excuses at best. They knew the supper was coming. They had accepted the preliminary invitation in good faith. Now, suddenly, they were “unable” (almost certainly unwilling rather than truly prevented) to come. The host was insulted and enraged. “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper” (Luke 14:24).
Luke does not give an explicit interpretation of the parable but its intended message is clear. The host of the great supper represents God. The privileged class who were first invited represent Israel, the chosen people of God. The parable is a warning that they will be excluded and replaced by the Gentile nations whom they despise. Why will this occur? Because they will reject God’s great supper, given through Christ, and in turn they will be rejected.
But why would they reject that for which they had supposedly been looking for centuries? The excuses themselves may provide a partial answer. In Deuteronomy 20:5-9 Moses listed reasons why a person might be excused from going to war. These included the purchase of property, agricultural activity, and marriage. Those reasons are remarkably similar to the excuses used by the invited guests in Jesus’ story.
This suggests that participation in God’s great Kingdom (which is what the supper represents) was being looked at more as a duty than a privilege. The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ lifetime had accommodated themselves very well to Roman rule. Though the common people might resent foreign rule and might suffer some oppression, the leaders found prosperity, power, and prestige within that system. Overthrowing Rome in favor of some unknown spiritual kingdom simply did not appeal to them.
We find the same principle holds true today. Though there is truth to the idea that “everybody enjoys a party,” it really depends upon what kind of party one is being offered. As Christians we celebrate “every spiritual blessing” through Christ (Ephesians 1:3). We also are promised “all things that pertain to life and godliness” if we come to know him (2 Peter 1:3).
We realize however that there are many in this world who have no current interest in spiritual blessings or godliness. Though they are invited to the greatest of all feasts, they will continue to make excuses and refuse God’s gracious hospitality. In turn, they will be excluded and others will enjoy what they could have received. Too late they will learn that this is one celebration no one should miss.