Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’
Now we get to the heart of this week’s Gospel. Let’s interpret the various characters and themes.
Who is the “certain man” who’s giving the feast? At first glance we’d say “God,” as many commentators have. However, there’s good reason to believe, specifically, Jesus is referring to Himself. This would explain the ambiguity in the final sentence of the parable, when Jesus said, “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” Jesus is mouthing the script of the “certain man” here, you can’t help but hear His words as addressed to the Pharisees He was eating with.
What is the “great supper”? Israel understood the prophecy of a great end-times banquet from the prophet Isaiah: “And in this mountain The LORD of hosts will make for all people A feast of choice pieces, A feast of wines on the lees, Of fat things full of marrow, Of well-refined wines on the lees. And He will destroy on this mountain The surface of the covering cast over all people, And the veil that is spread over all nations.”
As all Old Testament teachings ultimately find their source in the Torah, we also get this remarkable passage from Exodus: “And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.’ Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.”
Eating and drinking in the presence of God, after His minister says, “This is the blood of the covenant.” That sounds familiar.
Finally, we might even find precedent for a great feast in the situation of Eden. “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.” These words came immediately after the Lord said, “Be fruitful and multiply,” which is to say, they are foundational. The Lord wants Paradise to be a place of feasting in His presence.
So yes, He is the “certain man” through Christ, and He’s creating a great banquet, for people to eat and drink in His presence. A feasting that originally would be vegetarian, on account of man’s sin, now requires the death of another, hence the sprinkling of blood, and hence the fulfillment of the great feast in the Lord’s Supper, the foretaste of the feast to come.
Now a bit of cultural background to understand what’s going on with the people’s excuses. It was the custom in ancient Israel that two notifications of a banquet would go out. First was the initial invitation, which those invited were to RSVP. Then was the announcement that the banquet was ready.
The Lord’s invitation went out in the Old Testament. Every Jew knew it. They knew the Word. They knew about the Lord’s Great Banquet, and they knew He was going to send a Messiah to institute it. So really, they are without excuse.
The time of the banquet being “ready” is clearly the day of Jesus, the fullness of time. Because He was the victim who would provide for the feast, it wasn’t “ready” until His death and resurrection. So, Pentecost is when the “certain man” (Jesus) sends out His servants, the apostles, to tell everyone the banquet is ready.
And what do they do? Every one of them made excuses. That’s the language in the parable: “They all with one accord began to make excuses.” At first thought we’d say, “How rude, given the social etiquette of the day, after having been invited, to not RSVP, and then, after the host has slaughtered all sorts of animals for his great feast, now they’re all – all of them! – going to stand him up?”
But clearly there was a conspiracy going on. The excuses they give are lame. They’re not real excuses. It’s like that trope you see in movies where, quite similarly to our parable, some stooge is having a party, but all his friends gang up on him and come up with lame excuses for why they’re not going to it. “I have to iron my underwear.” Sure you do.
Again, notice the rejection and excuse-making are universal. This is why it’s probably wrong to use this Gospel to beat people up for “not giving enough time for the Lord” or for skipping church now and then when their jobs demand it. The tone of the people in the parable is not, “I just don’t have time, sir,” but rather, “Umm, I think I have some oxen I need to check out; sorry, I can’t come to your feast.”
They knew the invitation, but when the feast was ready, they did not want to come. This is a specific slap in the face of Jesus, who offered the feast and died to make it ready. But that in fact is what happened.
So who were the ones who universally rejected Jesus? We can’t just say “the Jews” because clearly not all Jews rejected Jesus, and even in the parable we haven’t gotten to the “poor, maimed, lame, and blind” yet, who we could argue are the Jews who did believe in Jesus.
So was it the opposite of poor Jews who rejected Jesus, the rich? This can’t be the case, because we know there were wealthy Jewish followers of Jesus.
Who then? In the context of the whole chapter, it was those who cared more about status and career-climbing, about exchanging favors with those who could give in return. These were the ones who would have nothing to do with Jesus’ feast, because His cross made it ready, and the cross alienates the career-climbers from the world.
As it was then, so it is now. Today we call it “politically correct.” Those who would be politically correct have no room for the cross and its teachings, or the feast where all this goes on. Being associated with those “poor, maimed, lame, and blind” Christians will not advance ones station in life, but could be an embarrassment.
Given where American business is going, veering every more strongly each day toward the left, this will become more pronounced. The movers and shakers of the world don’t want anything to do with the Lord’s meal, and they’ll find every reason to avoid it. But for the rest of us poor, maimed, lame, and blind ones, we live for His feast.