15 When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
16 But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; 17 and at the dinner hour 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 one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ 19 Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ 20 Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ 21 And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”
Verse 15 is the introduction to the next section and it is basically an interruption by a guest at the dinner. Jesus just finished telling everyone to invite the poor, blind, crippled, and lame to dinner so that their kindness would be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. And another guest chips in how awesome it will be to be a part of the kingdom of God.
Christ’s parable basically is a lesson to the over enthusiastic guest that being a participant in fellowship of the Kingdom is not guaranteed by his status, his blood, or the fact that he has received an invitation personally at the hands of Christ, but by his choices.
The story is that of a man who has prepared a great feast. He has been long planning this party and sent out invitations to a number of guests who all responded that they would come. So the man has bought the necessary food and drink at great expense to himself, prepared it, and now calls his slaves to him. No one has arrived to his party. It is a great insult, made worse by the fact that they previously attested that they would come. He tells his slaves to go out to all those invited to come and let them know that the meal is ready and they should come immediately. He is being charitable and assumes his invited guests have no ill will towards him, but are guilty simply of forgetfulness.
But the slaves hear firsthand from the invited guests a list of excuses as to why they must break their promise and not attend the party. The excuses given are rather flimsy. There is nothing there that could not wait another day and a new wife could certainly be brought along as a plus one, as the host had made plenty of food. The answers boiled down to a choice to be busy because the host was not important enough to them to put off their own desires and their own business for a day while they spent time with him.
So those invited to eat bread in the Kingdom of God have refused to come. What does the host do?
He sends his slaves back out to the city and tells them to go find the poor, downtrodden, and disabled people and bring them to his house for the feast. They would dine with him. The slaves obey, but there are still available seats in the hall, so the host sends out the slaves a third time. This time, they’re to grab anyone: strangers, highwaymen, travelers, etc. There is no discrimination now. The invitation goes out to everyone.
Okay, so I wrote a long passage interpreting this parable in the way in which I had been taught for 20 years. Which is that the application is that Christ is telling the guests that the Kingdom of Heaven will be a very different composition than they imagine it. They conceived of it as a mostly Jewish kingdom. As Jews, they expected to automatically be a part of it, as they were God’s chosen people. Christ’s parable is a contrast to that: Jews would be a part of the kingdom, but not the whole. And those who dined in the Kingdom would not largely be the priestly caste, the political leaders, or the well-respected. They would be off pursuing their own plans. Those eating in the kingdom would be the poor, disabled, helpless, and the needy. They would be men and women like His disciples: plain folks, uneducated folks, outcasts.
And those dining in the Kingdom could include literally anybody. Your ethnicity wouldn’t matter, neither would your background, or financial status. Anyone could come, no questions asked, if they chose to come.
That idea carries over elsewhere in the New Testament. The idea that Gentiles were included in the Kingdom of God because the Jewish leadership rejected Christ. It was one of Paul’s tenets, so Luke would be familiar with the idea and his inclusion of this section might be meant as an explanation to his patron of why this new Jewish sect was proselytizing so actively among the Gentiles.
This, of course, brings up all sorts of ‘fun’ questions on the idea of election, why God chose the reaction of the priestly caste as representative of corporate Israel, and whether or not Gentiles would have ever been invited to the Kingdom if the leadership in Israel had recognized Jesus as the Christ.
These questions are problematic. Jesus said that He came because God loved the world, not just the Jews and not just the Gentiles. And while Christ’s immediate ministry was to the Jews, He did visit Gentile places, and His ministry was always with the purpose of training more disciples that would eventually reach the world with His message.
So perhaps I should interpret the parable simply as Jesus telling a gathering of those with political, religious, and financial power that the Kingdom of God they were expecting to be a part of would have few of them and many of the men and women that they casually overlooked and dismissed. In context, Christ had just finished telling the men to stop thinking of their own immediate social and economic circles and start thinking about the forgotten people living in their towns. So it would make sense as an object lesson to them that God would not forget anyone. God would invite all to come, but that they themselves were in danger of missing out on that Kingdom because their focus was entirely on themselves and their own problems and not on their neighbors.
I’ll leave which interpretation you choose up to you. I think I prefer the latter.