Take Another Look
Text: Luke 14: 16-24
16 Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
This text is a parable. A story similar to this one also appears in the Gospel of Matthew, but some of the circumstances are different, but essentially the story basics are the same from Luke to Matthew. Jesus used parables quite extensively in his ministry; there are about 60 parables that appear in the synoptic Gospels. The synoptic gospels are those first three; Matthew, Mark, and Luke and they are called the synoptics because they are similar to each other. There are not any parables at all in the Gospel of John, and that is one of the things that causes scholars to treat John’s gospel as something different than the other three.
Jesus used parables to teach in ways that are often complex and not so easy to understand. The word parable means to “bring alongside” and the parable format lends itself to comparison of one event or one story to another. A very common way to study a parable is to experiment with the characters in the parable story and to place yourself, or place God, or place others into the different characters and see what fits best for you.
With this particular story there are several things which have always bothered me; all the commentaries and Bible scholars that I have read with regard to this parable I disagree with. That doesn’t mean they are wrong or that I am wrong, it just means I have a different perspective about things than what might be considered normal. But who wants to be normal, right?
So with that being said, I plan to unpack this parable in a little different way that I’m fairly certain you have not ever heard before. This interpretation, as far as I know, does not appear in any written commentary or scholarly work that I have found. It is a unique perspective and because it is, it is time for the Pastor Chuck disclaimer. These are my thoughts and my ideas, they don’t have to be your thoughts and your ideas, but I do ask that you at least think about it.
I believe it is almost universally true that the interpretations of this parable place God or a Divine figure, could be Jesus, in the character of the person hosting the dinner. The interpretations vary about what the rest of the parable might mean, but the fact that God is holding the dinner is universally accepted as far as my research has found. So it should not surprise anyone very much if I were to tell you that this is the first assumption of the traditional interpretations that I have issues with.
I offered a sermon series a while ago that was about constructing your own personal spirituality; you may remember this series, you may not. One of the topics we covered in that series was developing an image of God for yourself; in other words what things for you personally are characteristics of the Divine that are immoveable. For example, my image of God maintains that God’s love is unconditional, if someone asks me to accept a teaching where God’s love is not unconditional, I am likely to reject the teaching rather than compromise my belief about God’s unconditional love. There are several items like that which comprise my image of God. Another facet of the image of God that I hold to be true is that God is not anthropomorphic; that means that for me, God does not hold human like qualities. I prefer to image God more as an energy or a source of our existence rather than a being of some kind with human qualities. It is because of the image of God that I hold that I find it necessary to reject the idea that God is the one holding the banquet in this parable.
Allow me explain. In the parable the host of the dinner only invites what could be considered the aristocracy of the town or village to the dinner. The host clearly does not invite everyone. So right away we have a problem; if God’s invitation is only to a chosen section of the population and not everyone that creates a situation where the love of God is no longer unconditional. In keeping with the parable metaphor, if you didn’t have an invitation you could not come to the dinner. That is conditional and it is not in the nature of God, as I understand God.
So we move on through the text. The people who were invited begin to make excuses about why they cannot attend the dinner. Of course this part of the story fits neatly with all sorts of folks; we all make excuses for not doing some of the things we probably should be doing. But let’s look at verse 21 where it says that the owner of the house, or the host of the dinner, became angry and tells the slave to go into the streets and bring in the poor, the lame, the blind, the crippled.
There are a number of images here which cause me to take exception with the idea that God is the host of this banquet. This is even more true if you want to place Jesus as the host of the banquet. The first thing I notice is that the host gets angry. Having God get angry requires an anthropomorphic image of God, which I don’t accept as part of my theology. If you choose to view God as a spirit or an energy, it would be like having the wind get angry, or a tree get angry or even a river get angry. The metaphor breaks down if you don’t view God as a being with human like qualities.
The second thing I notice is that the poor and the blind and the lame, etc or obviously God’s second choice as attendees at the banquet. They were not originally invited; they were who was invited when the others made excuses and didn’t come. If you place Jesus in the role as banquet host, this becomes even more out of character, because as I read the Gospels, Jesus always gave preferential treatment to the poor. The poor and lame were not an afterthought, they were the first thought for Jesus.
As we move through the text we come to verses 22 and 23. This is the part where the slave did as he was told and brought in all the poor and lame that he could find. But there was still room. So now the host tells the slave to just go find anybody and compel them to come in, because he wants his house to be filled for the celebration.
Two things jump out here. The first point, which we have already covered is why were these last people to be invited to come in not invited in the first place? This doesn’t fit the character of God. The second point is that I hear a little bit of pride and narcissism on the part of the host in the text. He wants the slave to bring people into his house so that it will be full, not because he cares about the people. The banquet host wants to sort of rub it in the face of those who turned him down and prove that it didn’t make any difference; he filled his house anyway.
Again, this is part of the danger of having an image of God that is anthropomorphic. This is certainly a typical reaction of a banquet host that is a human being with all of our human shortcomings; but I don’t believe it is an accurate depiction of God.
So where is God in this parable and if the host is not God, then what part does the host play?
These are two excellent questions. I want to answer the last question first; what part does the host play? The short answer is that I think we are the host. When we apply this parable to our own lives, perhaps we should view from the perspective of ourselves as the host. Not only does the host exhibit some very human tendencies to which we can relate, there is something deeper here that I don’t want us to miss. The deeper idea is the host kept trying to tell others about the banquet; he didn’t give up on the first try.
What the host was offering to those who attended the banquet was food. I believe that God in this parable comes closer to being represented in the food than God does in the banquet host. If we view God as an energy; food is a source of energy. If we view God as unconditional; food has no say, nor does it care, who consumes it. If we want to view God as egalitarian, which simply means that God treats everyone the same, food fits that description as well. Do you think an apple will give more nutrients to one human body and less to the next human body? Of course not, the apple just provides the energy it has without regard to who ate the apple.
So we can reframe the parable of the banquet by identifying ourselves as a banquet host who has an abundant supply of God’s love to give away. When one group of persons ignores the invitation, we remain persistent and fill our house anyway. Then with a full house, we proceed to serve the food of God, the energy of God to all who have gathered. And all are nourished and all are fed; no one is turned away.
Pardon the pun, but that is food for thought. Amen.