Robert Capon – Parable of the Great Banquet

This week we are discussing the Parables of the Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30) and the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Please read chapter 11 “Back to Death, Lastness, and Lostness” and the first part of chapter 13 “The Party Parables” of Rev. Robert F. Capon’s book  Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment – Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Fr. Kimel’s teaching on the chapter is here.

The Context:

The second parable in our discussion tonight is the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). In Capon’s dissection of the Gospels, this parable occurs in the middle of a longer literary section that links the theme of a party or celebration with the mystery of death and the cross. This direct link between Jesus’ death and a heavenly banquet is made explicit in Revelation 19:9: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

This section begins in Luke 14:1 which has Jesus dining at the house of a notable Pharisee and ends with the festival celebrating the return of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15: 23-32. Within these passages, there are six celebrations that speak of death and resurrection – the dinner with the Pharisee, the teaching on humility in seating, the Great Banquet, the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost (prodigal) Son. According to Capon, each of these parables or parabolic teachings point toward the death of bookkeeping, keeping score, and giving people their just due. It is this death that is celebrated. p.281.

Immediately before the parable, Jesus gives the dinner guests at the house of the Pharisee this teaching: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, 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. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14. It is after this teaching and to better explain it, that Jesus tells the Parable of the Great Banquet.

The Parable:

When one of those who sat at table (at the Pharisee’s dinner) with him heard this, he said to him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  But he said to him, “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 all 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; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed 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 14:15-23.

The Resurrection of the Just:

The reason for this parable is Jesus’ statement concerning the “resurrection of the just” and the guest’s response of “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The dinner guest of the Pharisee is all-in on the resurrection of the just. The man (he was most definitely male) simply knew that was part of the “just.” He had been invited to dine with a respected Pharisee. He knew that he would be receiving his invitation to the “resurrection of the just” and in the same way, he knew that others – Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, etc., etc. – would not be receiving their invitation. The parable is to upset and overturn this guest’s expectation that God is a great bookkeeper and will reward only the obedient. However, in the parable, Jesus portrays the pursuit of a sensible, successful life as something that will keep them—and us—out of the party altogether. p.287.

The Invitation to the Banquet:

The host (who Jesus later identifies in v.21 as the householder or oikedespotes as previously discussed) sends out invitations for a great party. The man’s slaves deliver the invitations to other great men who are invited. It is a party of the winners and the worthy of society, not too unlike the guests at the Pharisee’s house in which the parable is told. However, none of the invitees can come and they send their regrets. The reasons they give are all good, sensible, legitimate excuses. Two have made major purchases and need to conduct their due diligence and the third just got married and does not want to spend the week of his wedding with someone else. As Capon says, no host in his right mind would be seriously miffed if you responded to his invitation with such legitimate regrets. p.287. A gracious and understanding host certainly would not be offended. At this point, Jesus’ audience was probably wondering where Jesus was going with the story since no one in the story had yet erred.

The Host’s Reaction:

The householder’s reaction, however, is anger. The host is not merely disappointed that his invited guests all have good excuses not to attend, but he is angry at them for not coming to his great banquet. But why would the host be angry by the giving of good legitimate respectable excuses? Capon’s view is to take the vehemence of this party-giver as Jesus’ way of dramatizing the futility of “living” as a way of salvation. He is saying that God works only with the lost and the dead—that he has no use for winners. Therefore God will be as furious over legitimate excuses as he would be over phoney ones, since in either case the net result is the same: we keep ourselves out of reach of his gracious action. p.288.

The householder is going to have his party regardless of who may come. He sends his slaves back out to the streets. They are to bring in the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame. They are then to compel anyone else they can find to come to the party. The Greek word for “bring” in v.21 is eisago which Luke uses in only two other contexts: (i) when he writes about Jesus’ parents bringing the baby Jesus to the Temple (Luke 2:27) and (ii) when he writes about the Temple police seizing Jesus and bringing him to the high priest to be tried for blasphemy (Luke 22:54). In both of these other cases the bringing is not voluntary. Likewise, the Greek word for “compel” in v.23 is anagkazo meaning to force, compel, or make. Again, when the slaves go out to find additional guests among the dispossessed of society, they are not taking “no” for an answer.

The Meaning of the Parable:

Do you see? The point is that none of the people who had a right to be at a proper party came, and that all the people who came had no right whatsoever to be there. Which means, therefore, that the one thing that has nothing to do with anything is rights. This parable says that we are going to be dealt with in spite of our deservings, not according to them. Grace as portrayed here works only on the untouchable, the unpardonable, and the unacceptable. It works, in short, by raising the dead, not by rewarding the living.

And it works that way because it has no reason outside itself for working at all. That, I take it, is the point of the two frenzied searches for extra guests (one into the “streets and lanes” and one into the “highways and hedges”), on which the servant in the parable was sent. They establish that the reason for dragging the refuse of humanity into the party is not pity for its plight or admiration for its lowliness but simply the fact that this idiot of a host has decided he has to have a full house. Grace, accordingly, is not depicted here as a response; above all, it is not depicted as a fair response, or an equitable response, or a proportionate response. Rather it is shown as a crazy initiative, a radical discontinuity—because God has decided, apparently, that history cannot be salvaged even by its best continuities. The world is by now so firmly set on the wrong course—so certain, late or soon, to run headlong into disaster—that God will have no truck with responding to anything inherently its own, whether good or evil. The ship of fools is doomed: if its villains do not wreck it, its heroes will. Therefore there is no point in any continuance, whether of punishment of the wicked or reward of the righteous—no point, that is, in further attempts to redeem the world by relevancy. And therefore in the parable, Jesus has the host make no relevant response at all to the shipwreck of his party; he has him, instead, throw a shipwreck of a party. pp. 289-290.

Dinner is at 6:00. The menu is pot roast. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here!

On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 25:6-8

4 thoughts on “Robert Capon – Parable of the Great Banquet”

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