Summary: There are many excuses for rejecting what God has to offer, and God sees through them all. If we’re full of the world we’ll have no appetite for Heaven.
Today’s parable starts out as table-talk. At a dinner, Jesus mentions “the resurrection of the righteous”, an encouraging truth. Someone at the table gets so excited, he declares a Beatitude: “Blessed is everyone who will eat at the banquet in the Kingdom of God!” And this is quite true-- it will be a time of great rejoicing. Our hunger for God will be fully satisfied when our Savior returns. However, without realizing it, this guest was already dining at a Kingdom meal; Jesus was present with him. The common Jewish belief pictured the Messianic Kingdom as a great feast held after the resurrection of the dead.
Some think this after-dinner remark was to prompt Jesus to talk more about the coming Kingdom. Instead of an end-times discussion, what this dinner guest gets is a parable about how God’s Kingdom is received. Jesus doesn’t disagree with the comment; He takes it seriously. It will be a blessing indeed, but He’d rather talk about the invitation, on getting into the banquet itself. Jesus describes the Kingdom banquet as a “command performance”. We’re told to attend, yet we choose whether we will or not. Not everyone responds favorably to God’s RSVP; some make light of it…but not without serious consequences.
So Jesus tells a story of a banquet that was turned down. Large dinners were important social networking events. It was an honor to be invited. Like the enthusiastic guest of verse 15, we can hardly imagine anyone refusing to attend, yet some do. The invitations go out, and the host is anticipating a positive response. Have you ever invited people to a party only to have no one show up? In the parable the host represents God and the invitation is for the glories of Heaven. It was customary in Bible times to send out two invitations: an initial request, then a final summons when everything was made ready and it was time to gather. So the guests had plenty of notice and ample time to make arrangements.
The invitees offer feeble excuses to defend their abrupt change of plans. They initially agreed and were expected to come…but now they back down. This was a serious breach of etiquette. Had they been honest, they would’ve admitted they really had no intention to come. There’s nothing wrong with fields, oxen, or getting married, but there are no grounds for missing God’s banquet. Let’s briefly take the excuses, one at a time…
-One invitee has purchased a field, which was a long and complicated process. The man would’ve had several opportunities to examine the property. No one would buy property without first carefully inspecting it. He doesn’t need to “see” it; he’s already has. His field wasn’t going anywhere, so this is a lame excuse.
-Buying livestock was far from an urgent matter; people bought animals all the time, and no one would ever purchase a team of oxen without first “testing” them carefully to be sure they pulled together.
-As for the man who was recently wed, getting married did not exempt people from social obligations. He doesn’t even ask to be excused. He rudely tells the host not to expect him. Some invitations nowadays read “regrets only.” This guy doesn’t even have the courtesy to “regretfully” decline.
There are many excuses for rejecting what God has to offer, and God sees through them all. People are too occupied with their lives to have God be part of their plans. They don’t see their need; they’re not willing to commit to faith; they find the invitation inconvenient; maybe they think the party won’t be fun. But no excuse is valid when God calls us.
There’s more to this than rejecting hospitality. This parable is also about the honor of God. We dishonor Him by choosing to refuse His mercy. God offers Heaven itself and people refuse it; for them Heaven would be Hell. They make a free decision to remain alienated from God. C.S. Lewis describes the doors of Hell as locked on the inside. We make Hell for ourselves when we refuse Heaven and God and joy (Peter Kreeft).
The host is outraged over these rejections but he turns his anger to grace. He can’t let the food go to waste, so he chooses an unexpected option: he tells his servant to invite the outcasts--not the “beautiful people” but the so-called “unwashed masses” who offer no excuses (the kind of people Jesus was known to eat with). Matters such as real estate and livestock didn’t impede them, and many couldn’t afford to be married. They’re told, “come on in; the food’s on the table!” They’re welcome to the Host’s hospitality. This meal isn’t for the full but the hungry. If we’re full of the world we’ll have no appetite for Heaven.
Although the prophet Isaiah describes gentiles dining at this Kingdom meal, his vision became an unpopular view among Jews. The Qumran community (the Essenes, from whom came the Dead Sea Scrolls) claimed there would be no gentiles at the heavenly feast. Our Lord’s point is that all are welcome at His table.