"So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: 'When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, "Give place to this man," and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.' Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Then He also said to him who invited Him, 'When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:7-14).
Jesus told this "parable" because He "noted how they chose the best places." Since this is a parable, certainly Jesus is teaching a lesson of both a physical and spiritual nature. Physically, He is teaching them how to conduct themselves when invited to a feast; that is, they should be humble. Spiritually, He is teaching them the importance of humility in God's kingdom.
In Jesus' day the "best places" were the places of honor. The common arrangement in that day was to set up the tables (i.e., couches) in the shape of a flat-bottomed "U." The space enclosed by the tables was not occupied but left vacant for the servants to be able to conveniently attend to the guests' wants. The center seat of each of these three sections was considered to be a place of honor. As a side note, I find it intriguing that some watched Jesus closely in order to find fault, but He watched them closely in order to help them via His teachings.
In Luke 14:8, Jesus mentions a different kind of feast (i.e., "a wedding feast"), probably to avoid being unnecessarily personal. Jesus instructs His listeners to not automatically take a place of honor without being directed to do so. Only one who is presumptuous and full of pride would honor himself by taking such a seat. This type of individual is not considering others as he should in order to give preference to them (cf. Phil. 2:3; Rom. 12:10). The proper thing to do would be to occupy a humble place and let the host arrange his guests according to his own judgment and desire.
If one sits in a place of honor, it is possible that he may be dislodged by the host in order to honor one who is more distinguished. In such circumstances, the one who had exalted himself will be shamed by being forced to take the "lowest place." Although he was not told to take this position, he must do such by necessity for every other place would likely already be occupied!
Of course, if humility is practiced when attending a feast, embarrassment such as this would be avoided. In fact, if one voluntarily sits in the "lowest place," it is possible that the host may come and say, "Friend, go up higher." In such a case, that one would "have glory" in the presence of the other guests.
"For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11; cf. 18:14; Matt. 23:12). These truths are easily seen in the examples Jesus has just given. Both God and men view humiliation as the appropriate punishment for pride (cf. Prov. 16:18,19; Ezek. 21:26). Additionally, both God and men are pleased to give joy to those who are humble by respecting and honoring them (cf. James 4:6,10). Jesus wants His followers to be humble in the physical and spiritual matters of life.
It is my belief that if we saw pride in ourselves the way we picture it in others, we would avoid it at all cost. If we saw pride in ourselves the way God sees it, we would avoid it like a plague. Humans are tempted to think that pride is respectful if (and only if) it is their pride, but this is not the way God views it.
This next parable (starting in Luke 14:12) is spoken by Jesus to those who would host a feast. Although He speaks directly to the Pharisee who was a ruler, His words would apply to all hosts in general. Our Lord speaks against the action of selfishly giving invitations to those who had the means of entertaining the host in return at a later time. Certainly Jesus is not absolutely forbidding hospitality toward one's friends and family (cf. 14:16ff), but He is forbidding any sort of hospitality that is done with the intent of seeking a "repayment."
"But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind" (Luke 14:13). The reason for this course of action is explained in the next verse - "Because they cannot repay." As a result of the fact that such individuals have no means to extend similar hospitalities to you, you will be blessed by God at the judgment. Thus, it is far better to do good works to those who cannot return the favor to you (and consequently you will be blessed by God), than it is to do good works for those who will likely repay the favor (and essentially you will only be blessed by men; cf. Matt. 6:1-4). As followers of Christ we should live more for benevolence and less for sociability. We should exert ourselves to help those who truly need it, rather than merely entertaining--out of selfish pride--those who do not need it. Let it always be remembered that all that is done to help those in need is considered by Jesus to be done for Him (cf. Matt. 25:34-40).
"Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, 'Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!' 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." So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind." And the servant said, "Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room." Then the master said to the servant, "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper" (Luke 14:15-24).
"Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God" (Luke 14:15). Jesus' last statement regarding certain ones being "repaid" by God at the resurrection likely encouraged this man to make this statement. He is rejoicing at the thought of feasting in the Messianic kingdom (though His conception of that kingdom was probably a physical, earthly one).
Jesus responded to this man specifically, and to all others indirectly, with another parable. His purpose in speaking this parable is likely to correct false views regarding the blessings of God's kingdom. These blessings would not be exclusively for the Jews as the man may have thought. They would be exclusively for those who would accept Jesus and make Him their priority over possessions, ambition, family, etc.
The "certain man" of the parable represents God. The preparations made for the "great supper" refer to God's activities across the centuries in preparation for Jesus' appearance as the Messiah. Before Jesus was born of Mary, the general invitation had been given through Moses and the prophets. The supper itself signifies the bountiful blessings of the gospel, and the invitation of "many" reveals the great extent of God's love for all humanity.
The man "sent his servant at supper time" also (Luke 14:17). The custom of sending a second invitation when the supper was actually ready was common (e.g., Esther 5:8; 6:14). "Come, for all things are now ready" (cf. Gal. 4:4). This servant could be signified by John the baptizer or even Jesus Himself (cf. Matt. 3:2; Phil. 2:7). Those whom were invited at first were exclusively Jews (cf. Matt. 10:5,6), but for the most part they rejected God's invitation.
"But they all with one accord began to make excuses" (Luke 14:18). The following responses are representative of common excuses given for not accepting the gospel invitation. In truth, there are no appropriate reasons for not responding obediently to the gospel, but there are many excuses men will give (yet none of them will be valid on the Day of Judgment!).
"I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it." The first man wanted to be excused from the feast because of land he had recently acquired. Did he really purchase land without going to see it first? Could he not go and see the land another day?
"I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them." The second man wanted to be excused from the feast because of his ambition to test animals he had purchased (i.e., test their strength, endurance, and ability). Why did the animals have to be tested right then?
"I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." The third man wanted to be excused from the feast because of his recent marriage. How would his marriage prevent him from attending? Why would he not be honored to bring his wife to the feast with him?
These three excuses show that the invited guests had made their plans without any consideration for the "great supper." The first man made his possessions his priority (e.g., 18:18ff), the second man's selfish ambition was his priority (e.g., John 12:42,43), and the third man regarded his family as his priority (cf. Luke 14:26). These men evidently didn't highly value either the friendship or the feast of the host in that they showed preference to other matters and in so doing exhibited contempt for the honor of being invited.
There is an element of newness in each of these excuses (i.e., new land, new oxen, and a new wife). There are many things on earth that seem new to us and more important than the gospel invitation. But, such deception is the work of Satan. This parable illustrates the fact that men will forego their right to eternal life for temporary, earthly pursuits, not realizing the value of their souls and the urgency of the gospel invitation (cf. Matt. 16:26; Luke 13:23-25). If one has the "sacred hatred" and willingness to "forsake all" that Jesus talks about in Luke 14:26,33, then he will eliminate all such excuses.
After these things were reported to the master, he was angry and said - "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind" (Luke 14:21). Although most of the middle and upper class Jews would reject Jesus, the lower class of society would generally be more receptive (i.e., the publicans, harlots, etc.).
"Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room." Even after the evangelistic work of Jesus, the 12, and the 70, there was still room at the supper.
"Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23). This is a reference to the calling of the Gentiles (cf. Eph. 2:12). The apostles and first-century Christians eventually took the gospel invitation to the Gentiles (e.g., Acts 10). Faithful Christians today are still doing what they can to "compel" people to come to God's heavenly feast by obeying the gospel invitation.
"For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper." The master had determined that someone would enjoy the feast he had prepared, but not those who had rejected his invitation. Spiritually there is no hope for those who reject Christ by making anyone or anything a priority over Him. Let it be noted that this parable was contemporary in that it pictured the current Jewish rejection of Christ, and it was prophetic in that it revealed the ultimate acceptance of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.