31st Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)
He said also to the man who had invited him, “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).
The royal heart gives without any thought of return. The motto, “Do something for nothing,” has become popular because the human heart senses its true nobility in selflessness.
Jesus’ heavenly banquet is populated by outcasts and defective persons. Who, but the followers of Christ, are the poor, maimed, lame and blind who are unable to repay the infinite debt to the Father for the gift of eternal life through his Son? The Father is our generous and bountiful host.
One of those at table with Jesus said to him, “Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).
More literally translated, “Blessed is the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” One of the guests caught Jesus’ eschatological wavelength and alluded to the messianic banquet, a familiar Hebrew motif. Jesus challenged his pleasant reverie with a new parable.
He replied to him, “A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many. When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, ‘Come, everything is now ready’ (Luke 14:16-17).
Historians conjecture that ancient Palestinians sent out preliminary invitations without a fixed date, and once the banquet was ready, sent a servant to summon the guests.
But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves. The first said to him, ‘I have purchased a field and must go to examine it; I ask you, consider me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them; I ask you, consider me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have just married a woman, and therefore I cannot come.’ The servant went and reported this to his master (Luke 14:18-21a).
Refusals by a farmer, a peasant, and a newlywed round out the story. All three invitees have better things to do than attend the banquet of their friend. As with the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21), they are preoccupied with earthly cares and secondary goods. Care of property, possessions, and marriage and family are all good in themselves, but become the enemy of the highest good when enthroned as monarch of the heart.
Then the master of the house in a rage commanded his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame’ (Luke 14:21b).
Implied in these words are that the rich and strong, the seeing and sturdy, have no desire to partake of the banquet. Aware only of finite desires, they seek satisfaction in finite goods that can be seized and seen. But the poor, crippled, blind and lame are interiorly aware of their infinite hunger and thirst for communion with the Infinite God. In relation to the infinite, human persons are indeed poor, crippled, blind and lame: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:3).
The servant reported, ‘Sir, your orders have been carried out and still there is room.’ The master then ordered the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled. For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner’” (Luke 14:22-24).
After gathering a large number of willing guests, empty seats still remain in the banquet hall. The master sends his servant into the neglected byways of the town to attract outsiders to the feast. “Compel them to come in,” says the Greek (anagkazó), a word that was erroneously interpreted by St. Augustine to justify forced conversions. The bishop of Hippo became “the spiritual father of the Inquisition.”1 The three persons in the parable, however, are certainly not forced to accept the invitation.
Although the parable originated in an exchange with the lawyers and Pharisees, it is applicable to humankind in general. All are invited, but only the outcasts—poor, crippled, blind and lame—respond because they desire God (cf. Beatitudes in Luke 6:20-26; Matthew 5:3-10).
St. Cyril of Alexandria allegorized the parable to the entire arc of salvation history:
“We understand the man to be God the Father. For similes represent the truth but are not the truth itself. The Creator of the universe and the Father of glory made a great supper, a festival for the whole world, in honor of Christ. In the last times of the world and at our world’s setting, the Son rose for us. At this time, he suffered death for our sakes and gave us to eat his flesh, the bread from heaven that gives life to the world. Toward evening and by the light of torches, the lamb was also sacrificed according to the law of Moses. With good reason, the invitation that is by Christ is called a supper.”2
Jesus’ banquet parable challenges us to evaluate our highest priorities. Does God, truth, goodness, and beauty compel our hearts beyond all earthly striving? What is our highest love?
1 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985, p. 1057.
2 St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 104.