Jean’s Gospel: The Great Banquet
“When one of [the Pharisees] who reclined at table with [Jesus] heard these things, he said to him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ ” (Luke 14:15)
Jesus and the Pharisees disagreed on many points of theology, but they did agree that God had promised a great feast in the kingdom of God. The problem for the Pharisees was they did not want the kind of meal the King was offering them. Jesus, therefore, used a parable to show the Pharisees the tragic consequences of their stubborn rejection of His invitation.
“But he said to him, A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.” (Luke 14:16)
Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a great banquet. It is great not only because of the host, who is Christ himself, but because the food being served is immeasurably great and costly.
At this banquet, Jesus serves His guests His body and blood. This meal is the Gospel which Jesus offers to everyone. Jesus refers to himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:35), who made satisfaction by his death for our sins and has redeemed us from the wrath of God, sin and eternal condemnation. Whoever believes that our Lord Jesus Christ was born for us of the Virgin Mary and crucified for our sins under Pontius Pilate, died, rose again from the dead, is seated at the right hand of God the Father, etc., partakes of inexhaustible food and everlasting drink.
Jesus feeds and sanctifies His guests through His Holy Baptism, and comforts and strengthens them through the Sacrament of his body and blood, so that nothing is lacking and all become satisfied. No words can adequately describe, and no heart can sufficiently grasp, this meal. This eternal food and eternal drink strengthens a person so that he or she endures forever and receives eternal life. Jesus prepared this banquet not for a few people, but for the whole world.
“And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ ” (Luke 14:17:20)
Jesus issues invitations to the banquet through His preachers: “Come, for everything is now ready.” The Pharisees had received invitations from John the Baptist, Jesus and His apostles. Wherever the Gospel is preached, an invitation is issued.
But the Pharisees would not accept Jesus’ teaching. They preferred to remain in their kingdom, with their Law, priesthood, government, wealth and status. The Pharisees wanted to control their own kingdom, focus on temporal affairs and earn a reward for their labor. So they excused themselves and forfeited both the temporal and eternal blessings given at the banquet.
“So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ ” (Luke 14:22)
Although it makes Him quite angry, God accepts rejection from those who excuse themselves from the banquet. But the banquet is being held, with or without the Jewish rulers, and God will fill the hall.
Therefore, Jesus issues invitations to the poor, crippled, blind and lame. These are folks who have no experience with banquets and feasts. They have no temporal kingdoms, wealth or prestige to which they cling. So they come. Imagine the salvation which came to the woman, who had anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment in the Pharisee’s house, when Jesus fed her His body and blood, saying: “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48). Or the salvation which came to the paralytic, who had been brought into Jesus’ presence through an opening in a roof, when Jesus fed him the bread of life, saying: “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:20)
“And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ” (Luke 14:23-24)
This last group provides us with a marvelous picture of people streaming to the banquet hall from the four corners of the earth. Jesus compels the world to come through the invitation, which sets before the world God’s Law and Gospel: “For there is no distinction [between Jew and Gentile]: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom 3:22b-25) If we believe His invitation, the meal is ours. If, however, we reject His invitation, then we will not taste the salvation served at the banquet.
It would be convenient to ignore the first group of invitees and view ourselves only in the third category of people in this parable. However, we are no better people than were the Jewish Sanhedrin; and we are just as capable of creating our own distorted vision of the kingdom of God as they were. Therefore, we might ask ourselves:
- Are we too busy for the banquet? Why do we excuse ourselves?
- Are we willing to enter the hall by His grace alone? What part do we want to play?
- Are we willing to eat and be satisfied with only what He has prepared for us? Is the menu too restrictive?
- Are we willing to share the meal with all His guests? For which seats at the table do we pine?
Previously, Jesus had said the banquet hall has a “narrow door” (Luke 13:24). Why is the door narrow? Did God make entry difficult? To the contrary, God offers entry to the banquet to everyone through the Gospel and entirely as a free gift for the sake of His Son who gave His life for our sins and now offers us His body and blood as heavenly food. We, on the other hand, view the door as narrow because we cling to our own false kingdom building ideas and/or want input into the guest list or banquet menu.
But here’s the thing: There is only one Host and one banquet and everything has been prepared for us. Therefore, let us repent of unbelief and trust that the banquet which Jesus has prepared for us truly is a great and perfect meal just the way He provides it. May we never tire of this great banquet nor lose our hunger and thirst for the inexhaustible food and drink with which Jesus feeds us, both now and forever. Amen.
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Isa 25:6-8) Amen.