The mystery of the Parables of the Great Banquet – the two contexts of Matthew 22:2 & Luke 15:16

by Grant Marshall

The parable of the great banquet is a familiar one, but have you ever noticed the context found in both passages.

Luke opens the text by placing a man with dropsy in the path of Jesus, as He is about to visit the leader of the Pharisees. Jesus is going for a meal. Luke the physician, before we even get to the main parable in Matthew, has already inserted within the story several human ailments.

Luke 14:1 One Shabbat Yeshua went to eat in the home of one of the leading P’rushim, and they were watching him closely. 2 In front of him was a man whose body was swollen with fluid. CJB

14 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, He was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body.NIV

14 Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees, to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely. 2 And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy. NKJV

This part of the passage is key to the context, but first, let us look at the remaining references. Jesus brings attention to the attitude of those who show favour to the elite and more fortunate in society, and how believers must show humility when we are shown favour.

14: 12 Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbours, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”NKJV

12 Yeshua also said to the one who had invited him, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives or rich neighbours; for they may well invite you in return, and that will be your repayment. 13 Instead, when you have a party, invite poor people, disfigured people, the crippled, the blind! CJB

In contrast, the focus in Matthew 22 is on the Kingdom. The previous parable of the vineyard owner bears some similarity in that very little respect is given to the owner of the vineyard and the authority of his servants. The result is that he puts the disrespectful tenants to a miserable death and hands the vineyard over to other tenants.

V40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”

41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone which the builders rejected

Has become the chief cornerstone.

This was the Lord’s doing,

And it is marvellous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.

Now let us look a little closer into the passage in Matthew. The text begins with the allusion that the following scene is compared to what the Kingdom of heaven is like. The wedding banquet has been prepared for the King’s son. Everything is ready. The players are as follows:

Servants or in some translations: Slaves

The various invitees – the invitation goes out twice.

Those in the highways and byways.

The man without the wedding suit.

The first actors we are introduced to are the King’s servants. The Greek renders servant as slave, but we must understand there is a great distinction between the two. In Judaism, the servant must be treated with dignity within the master’s house – reflecting the honour and generosity of the house in which he serves. In some cases, servants were free men/ bondservants who have chosen to remain within the master’s house instead of living a free life and returning to their family and property. A slave, on the other hand, had no rights. In this scenario, it would be easy to assume that a slave would not be free to roam on the streets as would a personal servant or messenger.

In the immediate social sphere of the King, invitations are sent out to attend the banquets. What is revealed is the lack of respect those invited show to the King. Receiving an invitation gives one the time to prepare for the event and respond with the acceptance. We are told that a second invitation goes out these guests and this time we are privy to their excuses. No one wants to attend. 

4: So he sent some more slaves, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, I’ve prepared my banquet, I’ve slaughtered my bulls and my fattened cattle, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding!’ 5 But they weren’t interested and went off, one to his farm, another to his business; 6 and the rest grabbed his slaves, mistreated them and killed them. CJB

This is a clear reference to the many who will be sent into the world to take the message. But what is startling is that it is those who were among the primary guests who committed the crime of killing the servants. They represent a peculiar group.

The resulting action of the King is to send His soldiers to kill the murderers and destroy their city.

This allusion is to the response of those who have been given authority and position within the kingdom — who reject the personal servants of the King, and consider the request of the King lightly. Obviously, their day to day living has precedence over the desires of their King. We see that their destruction and all that they own is also destroyed. Finally, the King sends out more servants who are commanded to go out into the highways and invite others. Note here, that these bystanders on the highways are also given an invitation. Accepting the King’s invitation, allows these people to prepare; in other words to make ready and buy clothes for the feast. Note: these invitees are not dragged off the street – they are invited.  The invitation is given to everyone, both good and bad. The King’s wish is to see his house full of guests.

Now here is the final part of the story. A man turns up at the feast who is not wearing suitable clothes. Is this some arbitrary gate crasher or someone else? The answer lies in the fact that he managed to get entry. It is the King who approaches the man and asks the question. ‘ 12 ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man is unable to reply. The result is that the man is seized and thrown out.

V13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him outside in the dark!’ In that place people will wail and grind their teeth, 14 for many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In context, it is those who know the Law – the priests, and overseers of the law, the Pharisees and Sadducees/judges, who are in the immediate sphere of God who neglect to take up the invitation. They are too busy in their tasks to take notice of what God asks of them, and kill the messengers, the prophets. The message goes out to every man following their rejection of it and they in turn are rejected by God.

The man without the wedding robe is one who believes that he can enter the banquet without preparing for it. He believes that he is all right as he is and need not pay attention to the protocol of the entry requirements, thus disrespecting the King’s wishes. This, I believe, is how one can mistreat, abuse or presume on God’s grace and His desires. God does mind how we approach Him.

It is clear that the highways are within the Kingdom and thus those who move upon them are also part of this kingdom. The invitation is sent out among them and they in turn are given time to respect the King’s wishes and prepare.

Matthew’s parable is, as Jesus spoke, an allusion to what the Kingdom of heaven is like. It gives insight into what is and what is to come. The mystery is partly revealed, in that, in heaven, the banquet has been prepared. God the Father, is desiring to have a bride for His Son. God the Father is doing the preparation behind the scenes; He has prepared the feast, he has sent out the messengers to deliver the invitation and He will send out His angelic soldiers to destroy those who disrespect His desires and His will. To add to the mystery, we are shown that heaven is awaiting the presentation on this Bride. The focus is on the banquet and the actors within the narrative. However, no mention is made of the Bride herself. She is being prepared behind the scenes. The Bride is the new creation, recreated for His Son.

Among all the celestial beings and the gods themselves, no one is found worthy to be the bride. There is no promotion for anyone among the heavenly assembly. Since this is the case, her creation must come about. She is brand new. To create her, God metaphorically sends out an invitation to the cosmos — to all of creation. He searches and waits patiently until she is found.

Beyond the bride herself, are those that will be invited to the wedding once she has been located, cleansed and drawn from the chaos of creation and purified by God’s word. Among the invited are those who have sacrificed much and have counted the cost of their wedding robes but among them are those who believe no such cost is required. God will receive anyone. The robes signify righteousness and holiness. Those without them have neither attribute. They are not known by the Lord. Since they have rejected the way, ‘The Way’ rejects them and throws them into outer darkness —  a place far from the presence of God.

When we compare this to the conditions prevailing in the body of the church today, we can see that many run to and fro, believing that everything will be all right and acceptable by God. The busyness of life in ministry, for example, qualifies them to attend the feast. The primary guests within Matthew’s parable were too concerned about their busy lives too, and disrespected the King’s wishes. They had turned to their own ways and considered themselves far too occupied to accept the invitation.

Look at this passage in Romans 8:

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.

In modern Christianity today, especially within evangelical circles, busyness and growth is the focus. The building of ministry and personalisation and celebrity masquerade as piety and the anointing. God’s house is a sacred place for worship and communion between Him and the saints, not a market stall where ministries purvey their wears and personalised bibles. Salvation cannot be received by any of this. It is a gift of God that cost Him his blood. Books on the purpose of spiritual life, well being and life coaching and other so-called spiritual enhancement techniques cannot get a person closer to God, no matter how much they spend. However, this does not negate the fact that those who teach, edify and equip the saints should not receive recompense for their time and dedication to the task. This is honouring God’s will for them and allows disciples to sow into the rich soil of the word and produce fruit. As we leave Matthew’s parable, we must realise that the Great Banquet is not a festival or some kind of revelry where drunkenness and the discarding of clothing is the norm. No!, it is a regal affair where fine foods, furniture, crockery, and wonderful garments are all on display. Protocol and precision must be observed. The heavenly hosts and ministers are decked in royal robes and priestly garments; musicians play the heavenly vibe and the fanfare reverberates in every corner of the cosmos. This royal affair signifies the unification of God’s house and as a result the great joy that is felt in His heart is given to all who attend and to creation itself.

The chance to be part of this amazing event is given to all who receive the invitation with fear and trembling. The cost of neglecting it is far too costly.

Finally, we see that the invitation is given three times. Twice to the same group and once to those outside of them. Could this allude to the two covenants; old and new and finally to the word that goes out in the millennial reign? Genesis presented to us a uniquely created event, the creation of the image of God in the first human. This first human would come to represent a new creation that would ultimately be the restored Bride of the Lamb.

Returning to Luke’s account we see the physician occupied by the human condition. The three translations in our opening text refer to a condition that is known today as oedema. It is the build of fluid among the tissues and can occur in different parts of the body, depending on the underlying causes. It is also known as congestive heart failure, and there is the clue which adds gravitas to Matthew’s parable. The revealed attitudes of those who reject the invitation and the man who gained entrance without his wedding robes, all show an attitude of heart.

Matthew 15:8-9 (NIV)

“‘These people honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;

    their teachings are merely human rules

The gnashing of teeth.

This passage reflects Isaiah 29

11 For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I can’t; it is sealed.” 12 Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I don’t know how to read.”

13 The Lord says:

“These people come near to me with their mouth

    and honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship of me

    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

We conclude that there is no scheme that comes from the cunning thoughts, cleverness or intellect of man that can get you past the great doors of the banquet hall. Our hearts filled with the longing to be with our Lord at this great event must be placed in the hands of the potter. From the heat of the furness shall come forth its new song, and the body must respond with hunger and eagerness to eat what is presented upon this great banqueting table.

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