By Tyson Thorne

October 25, 2016

The Samarian Ministry at Various Cities (9.51-18.34), 14.7-24

Together these two stories are known as the Banquet Parables, though the first one isn’t technically a parable. Parables are stories with a moral teaching that use fictitious (and unnamed) characters. This first story is more of a hypothetical scene whereby those attending the dinner are asked to picture themselves as the characters in the tale. On the surface, it teaches a simple wisdom of etiquette, that one should not exalt himself in a public situation or risk being shamed. As is often the case with Jesus’ teachings, however, there is a second and more important lesson to be learned.

As people made their way to the Pharisees dinner table, many chose the seats closest to the head of the table, the seats of honor. The guests were thinking of their own standing and reputation rather than on spiritual realities. One would think that politics would be removed from a dinner at the pastor’s home, but the Pharisees themselves practiced politicking, so why shouldn’t their congregants? Noticing this, Jesus took the opportunity to focus the people’s attentions on spiritual realities.

In the Kingdom of God, the humble are exalted first. While it was too early for the guests at that party to understand fully, we can see how Jesus lived what he taught. The Messiah humbled himself in coming and dying for our sins, and is now exalted in the highest. Honoring this teaching means being like Jesus. Paul understood this very lesson and wrote of it to the church in Philippi (2.8-9),

“He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name”.

Emphasizing the point, Jesus suggested the host invite the lowly to his table instead of the privileged. By inviting people from whom he could never gain anything in return he would see multiple benefits. First, his motives would not be questioned. Second, he would be ministering to those in need and fulfilling his calling. Third, he would increase his position in the Kingdom rather than among men. A possible fourth benefit, though not to himself, is he might have influenced other Pharisees to also be the ministers they were supposed to be.

The second story is a parable in the truest sense, one that teaches us about God’s plan that was about to unfold before the generation that first heard it. But we’re getting ahead of things. The story begins preparations being made for a great feast. While the table is being set and the meal cooked the master sends his servants around to let the invited know it’s almost time to arrive. One after the next they all give their excuses and beg off. Frustrated and angry at his friend’s ungratefulness, he orders the servants to bring in people that society would not deem to associate with. Street people, those who live in back alleys and even foreigners and highwaymen. This invitation wasn’t issued only to the disenfranchised, but also to handicapped.

The meaning wasn’t very well concealed. Of course the banquet is a heavenly one, and the master the Lord himself. Those originally invited was the nation of Israel, specifically the religious leaders who claimed to be friends of God. For this reason, God rejected them and opened the doors of the Kingdom to everyone else. We are the spiritually poor and crippled, spiritually blind and lame. God has shown his grace to us and made us the recipients of his blessing. Rejecting God has a terrible price, but his good nature is a blessing to those who accept his invitation.

As hard as it may be to imagine, there are those who receive God’s invitation and reject it. They make their excuses (God isn’t real, an afterlife is fantasy, I believe in something besides the God of the Bible…) but if they would step outside of their hopes and dreams and understand the spiritual realm for what it is they might not be so quick to reject God’s overtures. Perhaps this parable is a good way to approach those you know who are quick to dismiss Jesus. Just a thought.

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