7. “Called But Not Chosen” (Luke 14:1–24)
It seems almost unbelievable that Jesus’ open condemnation of the Jews, Herod, and the Pharisees in particular got Him an invitation to dinner at a chief of the Pharisees’ house. The fact that this occurred pretty much shows that the Pharisees were scheming to trap Him any way they could, and thus were inviting Him in their midst to find an opportunity. Perhaps He would say the wrong thing and they’d have witnesses—much the same way a modern journalist uses provocative questions to elicit a response and then cleverly edits the recording for a good sound bite.
A True Chosen One (Luke 14:1–6)
That the Pharisees were scheming for Him appears obviously in the next passage:
One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy (Luke 14:1–2).
We’ve seen this movie before, have we not? In just the last chapter, Jesus loosed the woman from 18 years of infirmity, in the synagogue, on the Sabbath, and was confronted publicly by the ruler (13:10–17). Now, here He sat at dinner in a house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees, it just happened to be the Sabbath, and there just happened to be a diseased man in their midst. While nothing about preparation is said, the likely scenario here is that Jesus was invited by the Pharisees specifically on the Sabbath day, and the diseased man was planted in their midst by them. How often otherwise did the Pharisees keep crippled or diseased people among their number, and in the house of their leader nonetheless? This scenario was almost certainly a setup.
Jesus, not slow to catch on, identified their pitiful scheme immediately. Instead of letting them spring the trap, He preempted them with His own question: “And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’” (Luke 14:3). The word “responded” is interesting in that the Pharisees had not said anything yet. This shows that Jesus knew they planted the man—that the mere presence of the man was a statement, an open challenge. But they were unprepared for Jesus to take the initiative. Being schemers, they were naturally cowards, and “they remained silent” (14:4) as Jesus “took him and healed him and sent him away.” Jesus took the initiative; Jesus ran the show.
Then Jesus read the Law: “And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things” (14:5–6). That they had no answer to Jesus’ legal question meant that they had no answer to His demonstration of Messianic power either, for the two went hand-in-hand. The Pharisees sat judged, speechless. This whole journey narrative from Luke 9:51 forward is, after all, Jesus setting His face against Jerusalem—Jesus bringing His covenant lawsuit upon the unbelieving Jews. He would not be the one judged by God. He was judge. Fact: the man was healed. And the law commanded such to be done on the Sabbath. Judgment: Jesus was the Righteous One according to both fact and law.
The ultimate joke was ultimately on the Pharisees, wasn’t it? Not only had they been shown up with their own scheme, but the very man they used as bait turned out to receive the blessing of healing, while they themselves sat stunned, unusually silent, and with nothing but desolation in their future. The man with dropsy received the Kingdom, while these Pharisees were locked outside.
The Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15–24)
Jesus was not yet ready to let His now uncomfortable audience off the hook. He immediately transition from priestly work (healing) to prophetic work (proclamation). He uses the very scenario these Pharisees had created in order to condemn them: they chose seats of honor for themselves instead of for others (14:7–11), and they invited only wealthy friends and family to their feasts (14:12–13).
Then one of them tried to get clever with Jesus: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (14:15). The statement exhibits two things: 1) a pretense of spiritual rather than earthly focus, which Jesus had just apparently condemned, and 2) a pretense of ignoring class distinctions. The first is less important than the second, for we already know that the Pharisees dress everything they do with appeals to the Law and prophecy. But here the man’s statement is an implicit argument against Jesus’ teachings. Jesus had just said to prefer the poor and crippled and to refuse seats of honor. This seemed to be an attack on wealth and status in general, and the man took it that way. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom. . . .” Not just the poor, Jesus, but us wealthy leaders also will be blessed. But Jesus’s emphasis was not on the wealth itself, but upon the Pharisees’ selfishness, pride, love of honor, and most importantly, the thing that all these vices revealed about them: their self-assured presumption that they even had a place in the Kingdom. They had not yet realized that they thought they possessed the Kingdom, but even what they seemed to have would be taken away (Luke 8:18; 13:30).
So Jesus restates His position with another parable:
A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (Luke 14:16–24).
The parable obviously relates to the immediate setting, but it is really a direct reference to Israel’s position with God. It is to the immediate group of Pharisees and their guests, for Luke clearly records that He gave the previous parables to “those who were invited” (13:7) and to “the man who had invited him” (13:12), and now speaks directly to the clever individual at the table (13:16). But the content is clearly a larger allegory for the nation as a whole.
Here is the interpretation: the man who gives the great banquet is God. The great banquet itself is the Kingdom of God (this corresponds, by the way, to the pointed statement the dinner guest just made about eating bread in the Kingdom of God). Jesus is, in a sense, saying “You want to talk about eating bread in the Kingdom of God? I’ll tell you who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God.” The original bidden guests where a mirror of Jesus’ immediate audience: the Jews. These were the original invitees to God’s kingdom: “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2), to the Israelites were “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises . . . . the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 9:4–5). They had it all, and they had first dibs on the seats in the great banquet. But they let their personal ambitions and desires distract them from it; distracted, self-absorbed, self-assured, they openly refused their invitation. Of course, these ungracious guests offer many excuses, just like the people shut out of the narrow gate (13:25–26), but the result was the same: they were left out due to their own choice. They had failed to embrace the invitation early, and as a result, what they originally had was taken and given to others (Matt 21:43).
The refusal made the “master of the house” “angry” (13:21)—Greek, orgistheis—just as Moses got “angry” over the idolatrous distraction of the golden calf (Ex. 32:19), and God promised to get angry when Israel broke the covenant to follow other idols into the future (Deut. 6:14–15).
The others to whom the invitation was transferred come in two waves: first, “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” from the streets and lanes. But these were not enough to fill the Kingdom; room was left. So the master sent his apostles out even further—the highways and hedges—to bring in whomsoever could be compelled. I believe the first group represents the remnant of Jews who would make the narrow gate, who would start the New Testament Church. The second represents the extension of the gospel of the Kingdom to the gentiles. This may be reading too much detail into the parable, which is primarily designed to teach one powerful overarching lesson: the self-assured Jews had ignored the time of their invitation, and they would soon lose their place in the Kingdom.
Consider, therefore, the overall context, Luke 14:1–24. Jesus had just conferred the blessing of God’s Kingdom upon the diseased man in their midst, and had then criticized the manners and assumptions of the Pharisees. The latter were the ungracious, distracted idolaters who would lose their seats; the cripple was the true invitee to the Kingdom. There would yet be more invitees to replace the rebellious unbelieving Jews. These would come from the farthest reaches and fringes—the gentiles.
The clever man who assumed he would eat bread in God’s Kingdom was certainly given a rude shock: “none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (14:24), but only the chosen remnant of grace, symbolized in both person and in the parable by the cripple. This parable teaches a lesson taught in other parables as recorded by Matthew: “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 20:16; 22:14). The same lesson is here: Israel was the many who had been called (long since), but they had refused to enter the Kingdom/banquet. Now, judgment was coming for their dereliction, and only a few would be chosen. This remnant was of the elect, true Israel. The mass of Jews would live out their reprobation.
Next Chapter: Friends with Sinners (14:1–15:32)