In Luke 14, Jesus describes a great feast.
15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”
16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”
About 4 years ago, my understanding of Jesus began to be radically rebuilt; I came to realize that most of what I’d been taught Jesus, salvation and faith was not necessarily wrong, but just incomplete. Ever since then I’ve carried a key assumption with me to the text of the bible:
there is probably something going on in the text beyond the obvious.
It’s easy to carry our 21st century assumptions into the Bible, and that can surely illuminate some of the stories and message, but it’s also easy to miss the original (and often explosive) agenda of Jesus and writers of both Testaments.
So two quick, related observations. First, the parable takes place in the context of a discussion on humility. In fact, the man’s comment in verse 15 is a reaction to this previous exchange:
7 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: 8 “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? 9 The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. 13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”
Jesus is talking about humility and how critical it is to a “resurrection life.”
In Jesus’ context—1st century Palestine, a conquered Roman territory—this is a scandalous notion, and Jesus’ pushes the point even further with his banquet story.
This other meaning of Jesus’ story here begins to be revealed when we understand two things:
- In the first century, honor and reputation were of absolutely paramount importance. People made decisions based on how it might enhance their public honor and/or reputation.
- One of the ways that you could enhance your honor and reputation was by hosting a party and inviting the right” people to it.
To restate this, if people wanted to know how awesome you were, how “honorable” you were, they would look at comes to your table. If “the best folks” came to your house for a party, it made you look good; really good.
And this mattered to you.
So Jesus is talking here about God’s reputation, and how it plays into the Kingdom.
God starts out by inviting “the usual suspects”, but they reject his invitation (essentially, by the way, this a comment about the rejection Jesus is experiencing during his ministry). So God, in this culture, does the unthinkable.
He throws the concern for his reputation aside and invites “the riff raff.”
He forsakes his honor, his reputation, and essentially says, “Bring them on.”
What do you do with a God like that?
What do you do with a God who lays aside His honor and status in order to welcome everyone in?
What do you do with this God who …
… sets aside His status?
… embraces humility?
… even embraces death as a criminal? as a rebel?
The truly radical and explosive nature of this parable is that Jesus is saying, “You need to sit at the lowest seat at a wedding banquet; you need to embrace humility, because that’s what God does.”