Jesus’ teaching about dinners and banquets, and the seats of honor at such celebrations, causes one of his listeners to offer a pious exclamation. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (14:15) No doubt expecting his well-worn piety to be met with little more than a nod of approval, instead Jesus tells a story that is both alarming and inviting—depending on the attitude of the listener.
A great banquet is given—the banquet of heaven. The man who is having the banquet issues invitations. But the invited guests all begin to make excuses. It is a familiar scene. When someone has a wedding party, some guests will come, some will not be able to attend, some will make forlorn excuses. Here, the first two excuses are to do with the burden of business. They have bought new property, and they are taken up by that so are unable to attend this party. Of course, they could easily set aside their material concerns for a moment to come and celebrate with this man, so the excuse is plainly just that—an excuse. The last excuse appears particularly lame: I have married a wife. Complaining of the extra effort that comes with marital commitment seems inappropriate as an excuse for not being able to attend a party that might be a good occasion for celebrating that marital commitment. Once again, the excuse appears to be merely an excuse, and not a real reason for absence from the banquet.
What shall the master of the house do? Jesus says he tells his servants to go out into the streets and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. The feast will be full. And if those who were first invited do not want to come, then the master will find others instead. Finally, as the banquet is still not full, the master tells them to go to the highways and the hedges—the real periphery of society—and “compel” them to come in. Jesus is not thereby suggesting the use of physical violence to enforce people to convert, but instead making the point that the gospel will find ready hearers, even if those who first are invited reject it. God’s call is effective for those that he is truly calling.
From this story, then, we are to learn to not assume that just because we have received “invitations” to follow Jesus and to heaven that we are thereby saved. We must respond to the invitation and ourselves attend the banquet. We are also to learn to exercise evangelistic effort to seek out those that God is working in who are willing to come to the banquet. And we learn that God’s banquet hall will be filled—even if those we minister to on occasion reject the invitation, there are others whom God will call to himself.
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