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The third part of the discussion around this very eventful meal involved the telling of a parable. Jesus' rebuking was making some of the guests nervous, so someone at the table pronounced a blessing on those who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God. Surely it will be a great day when eternal fellowship with God comes. No doubt the person who speaks up thinks that all at the table will agree with this blessing. But Jesus takes even this occasion to issue yet another warning through a parable. In effect, he says, "Do not count your chickens before they hatch. And do not count your blessings too early. There will be surprises at God's banquet table."
The parable revolves around a man's invitations to a grand occasion, a great banquet. In the ancient world such a meal would have been preceded by invitations, which would have been accepted by those planning to attend, much like our RSVP. The next step was to hear from the host's servant that the meal was ready, which is exactly what happens in verse 17.
But a surprising thing happens on the way to the dinner. Last-second refusals pour in, despite the RSVPs. As the text says, they all alike began to make excuses. Jesus notes three in particular.
The first excuse involves the need to check out a recently bought field. Some ancient purchases did require a postpurchase inspection. So the excuse is a culturally natural one, but it also reveals priorities: something else is more important than this celebration.
The second excuse involves the purchase of five oxen. Since most ancient landowners had only one or two oxen, this man is clearly wealthy by ancient standards (Jeremias 1972:176-77). Of course the reaction again reflects priorities.
The third excuse involves a recent marriage and the desire to spend time with the new bride. The Old Testament allowed one to be freed from certain obligations in case of marriage (Deut 20:7; 24:5). But it is hard to see why this would be sufficient reason to keep the man from attending this party, especially since he had already accepted the invitation. Again, he is choosing other priorities.
The servant tells the master of the refusals. The master decides, however, that his party will go on anyway. Nothing is to be delayed. The promised celebration will be held as announced.
The celebration pictures the arrival of salvation in the kingdom's initial phase. There is no delay to the kingdom's arrival associated with Jesus. There are only others who will be invited to come. The cultural imagery and timing control the meaning of the imagery in this text.
So the host, angered but not defeated, sends the servant out into the streets and lanes so the poor, maimed, blind and lame may come. This list recalls Jesus' earlier remarks about who is receptive to his message and shows the spiritual connection in the story. God now will invite all kinds of people to the table, and some who had appeared to be in line for an invitation will miss the meal, by choice: when the time to celebrate arrives, they refuse what is on offer.
The servant reports back, noting that many have come but the room is not yet full. So a second invitation goes out to those on the highways and in the hedges (on "hedges" see Michaelis 1967c:68); thus the invitation is now extended to travelers from outside the city who may not know the host.
It seems that the allusion here is to Gentiles. There is no great temporal break between the invitations, so Jesus is likely foretelling the apostolic mission beginning in Acts 10. Jesus views the current time of his ministry as a celebration, a time when the groom is present (Lk 5:33-39).
He concludes the parable by noting that those who were originally invited will not share in the banquet. At this point the parable becomes a rebuke. The warning is that many in the nation of Israel who were in line for divine blessing and who had responded to an initial invitation to be engaged with God's promise have failed to step forward now that the wedding day has come. The parable obviously pictures Jesus' invitation to experience the blessing of God's kingdom by responding to him.
It is crucial to understand here is that the party goes on despite the reneging of the original invitees. The party is not postponed; others are invited to take their place. Opportunity has been lost by some, grace has been extended to others, but the meal is still served. The question is on which side of the divide Jesus' listeners and Luke's readers fall. God's grace continues, but we can miss blessing if we do not respond to Jesus. Even those who seem to be first in line will miss the party if they refuse to come to the celebration. To use Jesus' words elsewhere, "the first have become last, and the last have become first."