Jesus sat at the table of a powerful Pharisee. The influential, honored religious men of the region had joined them. Normally, an invitation to dinner is meant to be a sign of friendship, but in this case, it was quite the opposite. These men had invited Jesus to trap Him so they could silence Him. They wanted Him dead.
As usual, the Lord turned the conversation upside down. How He longed for these men who claimed to love His Father to be the men of humility and justice that God required. So He confronted them through stories that told about characters that were committing the same kinds of sins to provoke new ways of thinking. He was trying to help them look at their old, entrenched ways from another direction, trying to help them see. These men were trying to kill Christ, but He was offering them new life.
In Jesus’ last parable, (see Story 138) He said that if they wanted to truly honor God, then when it came time for them to throw a dinner party, their guests would be the poor and the lame and the blind. As the religious leaders, they were meant to show the love and grace of God; they would open the doors of their homes to comfort the people whose lives who were most crushed by the Fall. It was a beautiful idea, and the very purity of it made the flashy, presumptuous tone of the feast glaringly obvious. It was so obvious, in fact, that it became very uncomfortable in the room.
Imagine how tense and annoyed these leaders were. Nobody had ever dared to challenge their ways like this before! Who did Jesus think He was to confront their honored host like that? This was no time to be talking about the poor! Didn’t this Jesus have any manners?
One of the men tried to change the subject. He said, “‘Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.’”
Jesus wasn’t about to let it go. He replied with another parable. This time He told about a great banquet. It was something like the feast that the Jews believed God was preparing for the righteous at the end of time. Of course, these Pharisees assumed that they would be there among the Lord’s most honored guests. Imagine their shock as this parable unfolded:
“‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet He sent His servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”
Now, it is important to realize something. This was no ordinary dinner party. It was a great banquet. The host had invited his guests many weeks ahead of time. His family had gone to great expense, sacrificing other treasures so that they could shower blessings on their friends. They turned over their time and energy for weeks to make it a great day. In the days that led up to the party, great packages and carts full of wine and oil and food had arrived at the house. Everyone in the region had been be talking about it.
For a large feast to occur, it took dozens of busy hands many days to cut and slice and mix the many dishes. They would have to hire outside workers to come and help. The ovens would be going night and day, baking and roasting and grilling all of the rich delicacies that the host would offer his friends in celebration. Tables would be set out and covered with the finest of linens. lamps would be filled with oil so that the banquet could go on long into the late night hours. Imagine how the excitement would grow and build in the house as they prepared.
As Jesus told the story, He explained that when the day for the banquet finally came, the master sent his servant out to his guests, telling them that the awaited time had come. But when his servant met with the guests, something strange began to happen. This is what Jesus said:
“‘…the [invited guests] all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”
“‘Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.”
“‘Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”
Can you imagine? What ridiculous excuses! Why couldn’t the man go check on his field another day? Why couldn’t the oxen wait? Or why hadn’t they done these things ahead of time, knowing that this was the day of the banquet? Was the honor of the man who threw the grand feast of less value than a pack of animals?
It was clear that these reasons were not reasons at all. They were giving bad excuses on purpose, and the worst part was they probably weren’t each working alone.
They were probably working as a pack. For some reason, they had planned to humiliate the host with the most public, shocking rejection possible. In their malice, they had waited until the very last minute, when the food was cooked and the tables were all set, to let the host know they weren’t going to come.
There would be no refunds for the money he had paid for the banquet. There would be no one to eat all that food or dance to the music. How the guests must have sneered and cackled at the thought of those grand, elegant tables sitting empty as the master and his family realized that everyone had turned on them. The people they had counted as their greatest friends were revealed as their greatest enemies.
As the servant went from house to house to house, he found that every single one of the invited guests had joined the refusal. How heavy-hearted the servant must have felt as he carried the terrible messages back home:
“‘The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”
“‘“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has already been done, but there is still room.”
Wow. Rejection was not going to stop the master from having a feast, and his servants knew it! The new guests would be those whose lives were crushed and broken. They were the last people anyone would think to bring to a glittering, fancy affair. Imagine the blind and lame and poor men and women as they were escorted to the brilliant tents and all the fine table settings. Imagine how they delighted in the gifts of the host! They would truly enjoy the wonderful delicacies that had been so carefully prepared! Imagine how wonderful it would all taste to those who were truly hungry.
Sometimes the greatest blessing is brokenness. It crushes our love for the things of this world, the positions of power and pride, and helps us appreciate the deep beauty of spiritual things and our need for Christ.
What did the guests who were first invited do? When they learned who was invited in their place, did they squeal and laugh? Did they sneer because the host shared his table with people of misfortune? Did they run to each other’s homes with the gossip, mocking the banquet where the guests were dressed in rags? Whatever they did, their wretchedness had no effect on the master of the party:
“‘…the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
Wow, now even the travelers and outsiders along the road were invited to come in. But the malicious noblemen who had been invited first were barred completely. In their mutiny, they had excluded themselves from the grand celebration. The happiness of feasting and music and dancing was given to the ones who said “Yes” to the master of the party.
As the Pharisees listened to Jesus, they could not have missed His point. For three years, the religious leaders of Israel had been given an invitation from Jesus, and not only did they refuse it, they denounced it! They joined forces and turned their backs on the Messiah as a united and hostile enemy. Then they tried to convince the people that this man who worked such startling miracles and told such astonishing Truth was operating in the power of Satan.
They were like the noblemen of the story, and during the time of Jesus’ life, they were doing everything they could to shame Him. But in truth, it would be to their own everlasting shame and sorrow. Unless, of course, they would repent, which was the very reason Jesus told the story.
How patiently Jesus continued to express to these men the catastrophic error they were making. How relentlessly He tried to help their blind eyes to see! But they didn’t, and they wouldn’t, and they were going to miss the banquet.
Jesus ceased preaching in their synagogues to go out to the roads and hillsides of Israel to declare the nearness of God’s Kingdom. He proclaimed good news to the poor and set captives free from every bondage. And now, in this parable, Jesus was hinting at an even greater ministry. The servants of the Master would go out into all the world, inviting people from every tribe, nation, and language group. For there truly is going to be a Great Feast at the End of Days, and those who say “Yes!” to the invitation of Christ will join Him in a celebration that will last for all eternity.