The Parable of the Great Banquet

Text: Luke 14:15-24

What do you do when you’ve prepared a large party and no one comes? Hopefully, this is a hypothetical question and you’ve never had this happen. Still, it’s sometimes a fear people have. You put together a meal; you put up decorations. For weeks, you procrastinate cleaning the house – and then you finally do it. But, what if nobody comes? Do you just quietly take everything down and pretend it never happened? This is the question the master of the house had to face in today’s parable. He put together a feast, sent out the invitations, and no one came. But, instead of calling off the party, the master called those who were night previously uninvited so that his house would be full.

In this parable, God is the master of the house. The great banquet is the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. Those originally invited are the children of Israel who were audience to preaching of the prophets. The poor, crippled, blind, and lame are the tax collectors and sinners who received the preaching of John the Baptist and our Lord. The ones out on the highways and hedges are the Gentiles; they are us. So that His house may be filled, our Lord calls those who were previously uninvited – even us – to His wedding feast.

I.

Our text today was preached by our Lord on a Sabbath evening. It was His custom to teach in a synagogue during the day – after all, He was a rabbi. Then, in the evening, He would often times be invited to a meal in someone’s house. For example, we know He ate in Matthew’s house, and also in Zacchaeus’. In our text, Jesus is eating in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees. This was an interesting evening, because by this point Jesus had already healed a man – which one was not supposed to do on the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that if any of them had an ox or son that had fallen into a well, they would totally pull him out – how much more so, then, for the man who was suffering from dropsy?

Over the course of the evening, Jesus noticed how everyone there was trying to choose places of honor to sit in and told a parable about humility. Then, when someone tried to justify himself, our Lord told the parable we have today. The parable goes like this: there was “a man who once gave a great banquet and invited many.”[1] When everything was ready he sent out his servant to call those who were invited, but one-by-one they all made excuses. One bought a field, one bought oxen, another was married and just wanted to stay home. The servant went back and told these things to the master, who became very angry.

Instead of calling off the party, the master had another idea. He sent out his servant again. This time, the master said, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”[2] Now, the servant went out and did that. The servant came back later and said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.”[3] One last time, the master sent out his servant – this time to the people outside of the city, the ones on the highways and hedges. The master told his servant to compel them to come in because in that culture an unexpected invitation must always be turned down. The master wants his house full, but, he said, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”[4] And with that, the parable ends.

II.

To understand this parable, it’s important for us to remember the context and the occasion Jesus gave it at. Remember, it was a Sabbath evening meal in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. In other words, Jesus spoke this to a group of religious leaders and elite. These were the same sorts of people that had a deep animosity toward Jesus, who would later demand His crucifixion. They and their fathers before them resisted and killed the prophets, and they would continue their evil work with some of the Apostles and early leaders of the Church. Jesus was telling this parable about who’s going to be in the kingdom of God, and it wouldn’t be them. The religious leaders and elites, the ones who claimed to be sons of Abraham but did not share Abraham’s faith – these are the ones represented in the parable by those who made excuses.

In ancient culture, when you held a feast you would send out two invitations. The first, when it was decided you’re having a feast; a second, announcing that the time had come. The feast in the parable is the wedding feast of the Lamb and the first invitation went out repeatedly through the prophets – from Adam on up. When John the Baptist and our Lord came preaching, they were announcing that the feast had started, and everyone should come, but they wouldn’t have it. They made up excuses and reasons not to believe. Therefore, as the master said, they would not taste the feast.

Many of the Pharisees, scribes, chief priests, and elders wouldn’t heed Christ’s invitation, but you know who did? The tax collectors and sinners, the outcasts of Israel. They heard the Lord’s preaching of the Law and Gospel, they were moved by the Spirit to repentance and looked forward to our Lord’s work on the cross. These are the ones in the parable called, “the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” who were in the streets and lanes of the city.[5] Though they were invited, they had been taught that they weren’t welcome because they were sinners. But, that is precisely whom Jesus came to save and call. This is what St. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[6] Then, when the servant had brought in the outcasts to the meal, and there was still space, the master sent him to those outside the city.

III.

Up to this point, the parable has been about the Jewish people, the children of Israel. Those who rejected Jesus were like the ones in the parable who made excuses not to come to the feast, even though they had been continually invited through the prophets. In place of the religious elite, it would be the tax collectors and sinners eating with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They heard Jesus’ preaching and repented of their sins, looking to Him for forgiveness. So that his house might be totally filled, the master sent out the servant to call those outside the city, which are the Gentiles – people not descended from Abraham; us, even. Jesus showed here that He did not just come for one race or clan or people, but to be the savior of the whole world. Just like He said, when He is raised up He will draw all people to Himself.

We are included in those the master invited from outside the city. Only, our separation from the feast wasn’t just a geographical separation, but the separation of sin. St. Paul wrote in the epistle that we were once alienated and far off away from God. He said earlier in the same chapter that we were, “dead in trespasses and sins,” being by nature, “children of wrath.”[7] That means that, since the Fall into Sin, we are all by nature sinful. We sin in our thoughts and words and deeds. We sin by what we do and don’t do. If there’s any people who don’t deserve to be invited to the joyous feast of heaven, it is us.

Yet, since God is love, He wants the feast to be full. So, although many in Israel fell away, the Lord sent the invitation out into all the world. The invitation is His Word. By the Word of the Lord, He compels us to enter the feast. He shows us by the Commandments that we are sinful and unclean and that there is nothing we can do to gain our way into heaven. Then, by His Word of Gospel He shows us that way into the feast is not through our efforts but through the cross. By His death and resurrection, Jesus made full satisfaction for sin, even for all people, even for sinners like you and me. Like the outcasts and those outside the city in the parable, we are invited in to Christ’s feast; and all this, by God’s grace and mercy.

This parable is one of rejection and grace. Unfortunately, many of those who were invited through the prophets refused to enter the great banquet. But, so that the hall might be full, the master sent out his servant to call the outcasts and the uninvited. Such were we. So, what do you when people don’t come to your party? Apparently, you invite more. Such has God done for us through Christ. Thanks be to God.


[1] Lk. 14:16, English Standard Version.

[2] Lk. 14:21.

[3] Lk. 14:22.

[4] Lk. 14:24.

[5] Lk. 14:21.

[6] 1 Tim. 1:15.

[7] Eph. 2:1, 3.

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