The Dinner Party Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 September 2021

Luke 14.15-24.

Jesus has two very similar parables in the gospels: The Wedding Party Story in Matthew, and the Dinner Party Story in Luke. Christians tend to lump ’em together, iron out the differences, and claim they’re about precisely the same thing. They’re actually not. The differences are big enough to where we gotta look at the variant parables individually, not together.

In the Wedding Party Story, Jesus compares his kingdom to a king holding a wedding for his son. That’s not a mere social function; it’s political. People’s response to that wedding was a political statement; it wasn’t merely some friends revealing how they’re not really friends. Whereas what we see in the Dinner Party Story is an act of hospitality, generosity, and love on the homeowner’s part… and the invitees blow him off because they’d rather do anything than spend time with him. The rebellion and sedition we detect in the Wedding Party Story isn’t in this story. These are just people being dicks to a guy who just wants their company.

God just wants to love his people, and give us his kingdom. And his people would honestly rather do anything else.

Luke 14.15-24 KWL
15 Someone who was reclining at dinner with Jesus, hearing this,
told him, “How awesome for whoever will eat bread in God’s kingdom!”
16 Jesus told him, “Some person was having a large dinner party, and invited many.
17 He sent his slave to tell the invited at the dinner hour, ‘Come! It’s ready now!’
18 And every one of them began to excuse himself.
The first told him, ‘I bought a field.
I seriously need to go out and see it. I pray you, have me excused.’
19 Another said, ‘I bought five teams of oxen.
I have to try them out. I pray you, have me excused.’
20 Another said, ‘I married a woman, and this is why I can’t come.’
21 Coming back, the slave reported these things to his master.
Then the enraged homeowner told his slave, ‘Go out quickly to the city’s squares and alleys,
and the poor, maimed, blind, and disabled: Bring them here!’
22 The slave said, ‘Master, I did as you ordered, and there’s still room.’
23 The master told the slave, ‘Go out of the city to the roads and property lines,
and make people come, so my house can be full!
24 For I tell you none of those invited men will taste my dinner.’ ”

Now y’notice the consequences of rejecting the dinner party are way less extreme than we see in the Wedding Party Story. In Matthew the king who throws the wedding party burns down a few cities, then has an underdressed guest hogtied and thrown out. Whereas in Luke the homeowner who throws the dinner party simply says, “None of those invited men will taste my dinner.” They’re not gonna be dead, nor cast into outer darkness where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Mt 22.13 They’re only gonna miss out on a really nice meal.

Crummy friends with crummy excuses.

The dinner party host invites his guests to dinner, and it’s a μέγα/méga dinner. Yep, it’s the same word in both Greek and English: It’s big. It’s important. It’s the sort of dinner where he’d’ve been an idiot had he not confirmed they were coming, because he prepared a lot of food, and there were no refrigerators back then, so it had to be eaten that day. He fully expected they’d come—and they begged off with some really lame excuses.

There are no cultural reasons why they can’t make it to dinner. I’ve heard people actually try to defend these guests—“Well if an ancient Israeli bought land, he was legally obligated to go inspect it.” No he wasn’t. Not in the Law, not in Pharisee tradition; he could’ve purchased it sight unseen, and never visited it, if he so chose. True, some purchases were contingent on the buyer seeing the property, same as now, but there’s no reason to presume this was that. The way Jesus tells the story, everybody’s backing out for weak reasons, and this is meant to be interpreted as one of those weak reasons.

Likewise the guy who just bought five teams of oxen: Yes, 10 oxen is a major purchase. Yes he should try them out to make sure they’ll plow his fields properly. But this being case, why’d he inconveniently schedule his purchase so he can’t make it to the dinner party? This wasn’t a surprise purchase—“Wait, I gotta harvest my crops next week? I had no idea! Well I’d better buy some oxen right now!” Plus there’s no way he could drive five teams by himself: He had to have at least four other guys in his employ who could drive the other teams while he did. And shouldn’t any of those other guys be fully capable of testing out his oxen for him?

Lastly the guy who just got married. Okay, verse 24 refers to “none of those invited men,” which suggests the host only invited men. So some folks have claimed this was a men’s-only dinner, and the newlywed might’ve wanted to bring his wife, which seems like a valid enough reason to beg off the dinner. But I doubt it. In patriarchal cultures, if you wanted to formally invite a woman to a social function, you invited her patriarch, and implied to him that he oughta bring her. If he didn’t care to personally attend, he’d send her with a chaperone. But in any event men didn’t formally invite women to dinner parties. Informally maybe, but this wasn’t meant to be mistaken for an informal dinner. There were invitations.

Really, it was because the newlywed didn’t want to take a break from romping with the new wife, and go have dinner. No self-control on his part. Most of us can understand that, but still.

So everybody bailed on the host, and he was understandably enraged: He spent a lot of money on food and food prep, and now it would go uneaten, and go to waste. But no it wouldn’t: “Go out quickly to the city’s squares and alleys,” he instructed his slave, “and the poor, maimed, blind, and disabled: Bring them here!” Lk 14.21 Go get people whom the host knew would be hungry, and appreciate his hospitality.

The Dinner Party Story comes right after Jesus gave this teaching:

Luke 14.12.14 KWL
12 Jesus also said to those who invited him, “Whenever you have a lunch or dinner,
don’t invite your friends, siblings, relatives, or rich neighbors,
lest they invite you in return, to repay you.
13 Instead whenever you have a feast, invite the poor, maimed, disabled, blind,
14 and you’ll be awesome, because they have no way to repay you,
for you’ll be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus lists the very same disadvantaged folks in both his lesson and this story: The poor, maimed, blind, and disabled. Not in the same order, but they’re the same words. People who can’t possibly practice reciprocity, because they can’t throw a dinner party. But that’s okay. You’re not doing it for payback. You’re doing it to be awesome.

Apparently this dinner was so mega, they ran out of poor people in the city! Or at least poor people who would accept a free meal. You probably know people who absolutely refuse to accept anything for free—including grace—because they feel they should earn everything they have, and owe no one anything, nor be in any kind of karmic debt whatsoever. It’s a pride thing. But in my experience, the reason God lets some people be poor and stay poor is because he’s trying to break that pride off them… ’cause if he ever gives such people money, they’re gonna be so insufferably stingy.

Anyway the host had to order his slave “to the roads and property lines” (KJV “the highways and hedges”) —to places which’d be outside the city gates, where he might find people on their way to town, who might be tired and hungry and in need of a good meal, and here was a really good meal! The invitation was now extended, not just to the poor and needy who might know who the host was, but to strangers who might not. But that’s okay; there was plenty of food.

Spite and God’s kingdom.

Okay, time to address the elephant in the room. That last comment the host makes, “For I tell you none of those invited men will taste my dinner,” Lk 14.24 sounds just a bit spiteful. Or at least many a preacher has phrased it that way. Those guys who passed on dinner are totally gonna miss out.

And historically, spiteful preachers have interpreted it that very way. They claim the dinner is God’s kingdom, and the invited people who passed on dinner were God’s chosen people, the Jews. But because the Jews rejected Jesus, none of them are gonna inherit God’s kingdom. Because doesn’t the host in this story say so? “None of those invited men” means none of the Jews, right?

But it’s a ridiculous assumption, because all the first Christians were Jews. All the authors of the New Testament were either Jews by ancestry or (in Luke’s case) conversion. There are still tons of Christians of Jewish descent. Jesus is no antisemite; he’s the king of the Jews! It’s all kinds of stupid to apply antisemitic ideas to his teachings.

But there’s spite, and there’s spite. The word spite actually has two definitions.

SPITE spaɪt noun. A desire to hurt, offend, or annoy someone else.
2. Without regard for the wishes of someone else.

The first definition means we wanna poke someone in the feelings. The second doesn’t necessarily. It might poke them; it might enrage them. It might not. But either way, we’re doing as we’re doing, despite them, or in spite of them. It’s not the harmful sort of spite; it’s the passive sort.

God does the passive sort all the time. Plenty of people don’t want him to do as he’s doing. They don’t want him to love and bless the people they hate. They don’t want him to overthrow their favorite institutions. They don’t want him to intervene in their affairs. They don’t want him! And a lot of times, he’ll give them what they want, and give ’em space. But when their selfish desires start to harm others, especially the needy, he’s gonna intervene; he won’t stand by forever. He’s our savior, y’know. He’ll save people in spite of their haters. Not to deliberately enrage them, even though God knows they’ll be enraged. (And even though God’s people, who are way less kind than God is, will kinda enjoy their rage.)

Is the host being spiteful to his invited guests? Yes, but I would argue it’s the passive sort of spite. They bailed on his dinner because they don’t really care about him, and offered lame excuses because they wanted him to know they don’t really care about him. But rather than dwell on their offensive behavior, he threw his dinner party all the same. Rather than be frustrated he didn’t have enough guests, he went out and got plenty of guests. Rather than be miserable and not enjoy himself, I’m pretty sure he enjoyed himself a great deal. Generosity is fun!

None of this was to make the invited people miserable; I doubt the host cared whether his invitees were miserable. He had other things to focus on. Like making sure he had enough wine for all his new guests. Making sure they weren’t hesitant about eating as much as they liked. Being a good host in general.

God’s kingdom is like this host’s generosity. Everybody’s invited. Not everybody’s gonna accept the invitation. But if they think God’s gonna wallow in misery about their rejection, he really won’t; he’s gonna grant his kingdom to all sorts of people who don’t deserve it, including strangers and gentiles who never initially expected to be included. It’ll be awesome.

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