In Luke 14, we find Jesus reclining at the table in a Pharisee’s home, doing His usual Jesus thing. He’s just embarrassed many of the guests at the dinner by calling attention to the fact that they were trying to exalt themselves by grabbing seats of honor at the table (see Understanding Jesus: All who Exalt Themselves will be Humbled). Now He turns to His host and blasts him with the accusation that he’s not as generous as he seems for having everyone over to dinner. After all, these Jews were living in a tit for tat society. If you invite your buddy over for some lavish meal, it’s understood that he now owes it to you to return the favor.
Jesus turned to His host and said, “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet, don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” (Lk. 14:12-14)
The Pharisees prided themselves on not associating with society’s dregs. We can be sure that there were no crippled, lame or blind at this man’s table. Instead, he’s invited everyone who Jesus just told him not to invite: his rich friends and relatives. Well, how nice to have a Guest who is so condescending. But before the host can reply, someone pipes up from another place at the table with what is either sincere enthusiasm or an attempt to butter Jesus up.
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!” (Lk. 14:15)
Far be it from Jesus to respond with a simple “Amen, brother.” Instead, He launches into a parable that is filled with pointed zingers. You gotta love eating with Jesus.
Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’
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.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 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. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’” (Lk. 14:16-24)
In this story, the master represents Yahweh, and the great feast represents admission into Heaven. The servant is functioning like the Holy Spirit does today: He is calling souls to come to God. The invitation to dine is a metaphor for Divine illumination: we cannot come to God until He first extends an invitation to us.
Now the excuses the first batch of guests give in this story would have made sense to the people Jesus is talking to. New stuff and new relationships: these are things we still get excited about today. The problem is that we can get so caught up in these things that we start putting off the Holy Spirit. We think, “I’m doing great right now—I’ll get around to God later on.” The epic mistake we make is in assuming that God’s invitation will still be available later on. It most certainly will not.
When a man throws a party, he picks a day on the calendar to have it. He doesn’t just have a perpetual party and leave the door of his house wide open. If you don’t respond to his invitation in the timeframe he gives you, the party will go on without you and you’ll permanently miss your chance. It’s the same when our Gods call us to receive salvation. If we don’t hop to it when the Holy Spirit begins to reveal to us the truths we need to properly submit to our Makers, we can end up totally missing our chance. There is nothing more terrifying than the Holy Spirit giving up on someone and He does this a lot. God’s patience does not last forever. He delights in being generous, but He is not a doormat. If we keep putting Him off, the day comes when He gets royally offended and slams the door permanently closed. In the Gospel books, Jesus puts out many chilling parables of what happens to souls who put God off for too long.
In this parable of the great feast, the master is furious when he gets word that his first round of invitations have been rejected. The first group refused to come because they all felt they had better things to do. Fine. The master now redirects his servant to target those who are certain to be more appreciative: the poor, crippled, and homeless. It’s an enthusiastic response to his generosity that this master is looking for, and society’s outcasts give it to him. When they receive word of the invitation, they come in droves, but the servant reports there is still room for more. The master dispatches his servant a third time, once again instructing him to focus on the overlooked and unwanted. He then declares that none of those punks who rejected his first round of invitations will taste one bite of his great food.
So what is the point of this parable? Is Jesus saying that society’s losers are the last ones to receive a shot at salvation? Not at all. The point of this parable is to show how affronted God is when we put Him off. Jesus is warning that if we stay too caught up in the cares of the world, we will find ourselves eternally cast out. Remember that Jesus is dining at a Pharisee’s house. Pharisees were rich and steeped in self-exaltation and spiritual rebellion. Pharisees liked to hang out with fellow snobs, so when Jesus looks around this table, He’s undoubtedly seeing a bunch of souls who are putting God off. Earlier in this chapter, He warned everyone about how much God dislikes self-exaltation. The Pharisees not only considered themselves to be in good standing with Yahweh, they considered themselves to be among the spiritually elite. There was no doubt in their minds that they’d be attending that heavenly banquet, and the fellow who piped up to say what a great time that would be might have been seriously deluded about which side of eternity he was currently qualifying for. Jesus is speaking to a very materialistic crowd and warning them to give serious thought as how their souls are responding to God. Are they responding enthusiastically to His illumination? Yahweh is in the middle of an epic change in Covenants—this is not the time to be slack about listening to the Holy Spirit. Today it is just as urgent that we stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s Voice, for salvation isn’t the only invitation that God extends on a temporary basis. His invitations for us to grow closer to Him are limited as well, so we want to make the most of them. Where do we start? By asking the Holy Spirit to help us be sensitive to His Voice and to make us all that He wants us to be.