We typically fill our parties with people similar to ourselves. We invite into our homes those we work with, play with, or otherwise have something in common with. We celebrate with fellow graduates, entertain people from our neighborhoods, and open our doors to four year-olds when our own is turning four. Psychologists concur: we socialize with those in our circles because we have some ring of similarity that connects us.
The man in the parable of the great banquet is no different. The story is told in Luke chapter 14 of an affluent master of ceremonies who had invited a great number of people like himself to a meal. The list was likely distinguished; the guests were no doubt as prosperous socially as they were financially. Jesus sets the story at a critical time for all involved. The invitations had long been sent out and accepted. Places were now set; the table was now prepared. All was ready. Accordingly, the owner of the house sent his servant to bring in the guests. But none would come.
Anthropologists characterize the culture of Jesus’s day as an “honor/shame” society, where one’s quality of life was directly affected by the amount of honor or shame socially attributed to him or her. The public eye was paramount; every interaction either furthered or diminished one’s standing, honor, and regard in the eyes of the world.
Thus, in this parable, the master of the banquet had just been deliberately and publicly shamed. He was pushed to the margins of society and treated with the force of contempt. Hearers of this parable would have been waiting with baited breath to hear how this man would attempt to reclaim his honor. But scandalously, in fact, the master of the feast did not attempt to reverse his public shame. Altogether curiously, he embraced it.
Turning to the slave, the owner of the house appointed the servant with a new task: “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and the poor and maimed and lame and blind bring in here.”(1) Returning, the servant reported, “Lord it has all occurred as you ordered, and still there is room.” So the owner of the house responded again, “Go out into the waves and hedges and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
The slave is told to do what he must to compel the masses to come, liberating the blind, the lame, and the excluded of their social status and stigma with an invitation to dine with none other than the master. It is a staggering portrayal of a God who is shamed by the rejection of his people, and yet continues to respond with lavish grace and scandalous invitation into his presence. The owner of the house has opened wide the doors. The feast is ready—and there is yet room.
The longing to belong in the right circles is a desire that touches us all. Even so, one only has to watch a group of kids on playground to see how easily our desire to belong is corrupted by our need to exclude: the inner circle is not inner if there are no outsiders. Lines of honor and shame are futile if the majority is not on the wrong side. But in this story, God scandalously breaks these lines of demarcation and stratification. The Father forever challenges the notion that his house will be filled only with the rich or the righteous or those without shame.
The banquet is ready and there is a call to fill the house with the lost and unworthy, the homeless, the blind, the outsiders and the out-of-place. The invitation Jesus presents is wide enough to scour the darkest of hedges and the depths of the city streets. Whether we find ourselves outside of the circle because we have rejected him or at the table communing with his guests, it is a thought to digest: the kingdom of God is like a great banquet. God’s compulsion is our nourishment. The feast is ready and there is still room.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Luke 14:21.