The parables about the Great Supper (also known as the Marriage Banquet, or Wedding Feast) are found in Luke chapter 14 and in Matthew chapter 22. Reading them together provides an even starker contrast of those who are in God’s kingdom –with those who stubbornly remain outside.
It begins with Jesus going to eat bread at the house of a leading Pharisee. There He introduced the parable with a description of the guests gathered in that house for the meal. They were jockeying for the best seats at the dinner table –and none of them came from humble circumstances.
There He said “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast. . .” (from Luke 14:8).
It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away. And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” And they could make no reply to this.
And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:1-14)
When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’
And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’” (Luke 14:15-24)
The passage directly preceding the parable sets the context –His target audience was the religious leadership. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet” (Matthew 21:45-46).
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. “And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.
“Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”’
“But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. “But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.
“Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.
“But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)
We know that Jesus was describing the kingdom of God –He said so. And it’s clear that He was referring to His Father as the host of a great dinner –the celebration of His Son’s wedding.
Specifically listed (in both parables combined) are the king, the son, the slaves or servants, those who had an excuse, those who were crippled, lame, blind, those who were unworthy, those who were good, those who were evil, and one without wedding clothes.
Before going on, let me ask you a question. . . ”No doubt you’ve heard or read these parables before. Where do you think that you might fit into (or hope to not fit into) this picture of the kingdom?”
Essentially, there are two groups of people identified: there’s the king’s household –and there are those he invited.
Imagine such a setting. There’s a spacious, elegant room with sumptuous food –it’s the king’s banquet hall. There are servers waiting to cater. The seating is carefully planned with tables throughout for those he invited. And there’s a large table in front for the host and those he’s honoring.
Most of the descriptions in the parables are of the people that the king invited. There were those who didn’t come. They replied with frivolous excuses –so the royal family must not have been important to them. The rest came because they were brought by the servants. There were the crippled, blind and lame. They too had excuses –implying that they couldn’t come because their situation prohibited it. And there were the good, the evil, the unworthy– it seems they didn’t know about the celebration.
Those who refused were the self-righteous Pharisees. They knew who the King was –and they denied that His Son was in their presence. Some others (who were forced to come) were content in their misery with their needs satisfied by people having pity on them. Still others (also forced to come) led legalistic lives based on justice (condemning the guilty and justifying their own innocence) –rather than living by faith in the Redeemer. And there was that other one –the unworthy– those who wrongly presume that they are in the kingdom –they’re clothed in their own righteousness instead of the wedding clothes that he offered.
Where do we fit in –really? We’re almost transparent to the story. We’re at the table in front –seated with our Husband and our Father. We’re the bride of Christ. Why should we be mentioned? We’re part of the royal family –God’s household.
Why did those others have to come to the feast? To face the Lamb that they ignored their entire earthly lives. They will bow before Him and confess that He is Lord.
Oh, there’s mention of slaves or servants. Now who could that be? Not the One who goes back and forth between the Father and mankind –search for people to join the Son in marriage, could it? Yes, indeed –He’s the Holy Spirit– serving us, drawing us, leading us to eternal life in the kingdom.