The idiom, “fit for a king” is used to describe anything that is of exceptional quality. The meaning behind this idiom is obvious: Anything fit for king is flawless. Only the best of the best is given to a king. More than likely this idiom originated around the 18th century when many countries were ruled by royalty. In contemporary usage the phrase, “fit for a king” is most often used to describe lavish meals. “That meal was fit for a king.”
If you remember, one of the key teachings in Luke’s Gospel is the radical reversal of all things. God becomes man instead of man becoming god (the Incarnation). Those who should don’t, while those who shouldn’t do. The poor are blessed while the rich are warned. The hungry are fed while the fed go hungry. The sorrowful are blessed while those filled with laughter weep (Luke 6:17-26). The last will be first and the first will be last (Luke 13:30). The way to salvation is through a narrow gate. The way to destruction is down a broad path (Luke 13:22-30). God’s kingdom is all powerful. The powerful kingdoms of this world are, in reality, powerless. This radical reversal of all things leads me to believe that Jesus would describe a lavish meal as being “fit for a peasant.” This is exactly what he does in the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). The Great Banquet is a meal fit for a peasant.
A Prominent Pharisee
The context of Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet actually starts with a meal “in the house of a prominent Pharisee” (Luke 14:1). This is the third (and final) time Jesus shares a meal in the home of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50 and Luke 11:37-54). The word “prominent” also means “ruling.” Thus, this Pharisee was a member of the Sanhedrin; the Jewish Supreme Court. Some scholars speculate that this particular Pharisee was actually Nicodemus (see John 3 The dinner was on the Sabbath and the religious leaders brought a man the dinner who suffered from fluid retention to see if Jesus would heal (i.e. work) on the Sabbath. The whole dinner was a set up! Jesus heals the man and then puts the religious leaders on the defensive by telling a parable based on a cultural norm of the day. Jesus says:
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous’” (Luke 14:8-14).
In the culture of that day, meals were important social rituals. People normally only ate with those within their own social class. Where a person sat at the table was determined by social status. The closer you sat to the host, the more important you were. Jesus uses this elitist attitude to teach a valuable lesson about humility. The moral of the story is, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). One of the best ways to demonstrate humility is by serving those who cannot pay you back. So, the next time you want to throw a party, instead of inviting people who will bring gifts and return the favor, “invite the poor, the crippled, the land, the blind” (Luke 14:13). In other words, throw a feast fit for a peasant! Then, and only then, you will be blessed (Luke 14:13).
Moved by the parable and the compassion Jesus showed towards the marginalized, one of the dinner guest interrupted, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). This would have been heard as a celebratory toast because those at the dinner agreed with what Jesus was saying. The toast was in reference to the end-time messianic banquet predicted by Isiah, “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines” (Isaiah 25:6). It was in response to this toast Jesus told the parable of the Great Banquet.
“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room. Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet’” (Luke 14:16-24).
Since this parable comes out of a reference to the kingdom of God, it is safe to say the Great Banquet is a reference to heaven. This parable is about those who will be in the kingdom and those who will not.
A man of great means invites many people to a large banquet. According to Near Eastern culture, the invitations would go out first. Then, those who responded to the first invitation would be notified when the dinner was actually ready. What this means is the people who make excuses had previously accepted the invitations to the feast. They were backing out of their commitment! And their excuses were insulting.
One said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it” (Luke 14:19). No one would buy a field and then go look at it. They would have looked at it first, and then bought it.
Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out” (Luke 14:19). Again, a responsible person would first try the oxen out and then buy them, not the other way around.
A third man said, “I just got married, so I can’t come” (Luke 14:20). This excuse is laughable for two reasons: First, in a village where everyone knows everyone, everyone would have known about the marriage and no one would schedule a village feast that would interfere with the wedding. Second, a host would not have invited a recently married couple to a banquet in the first place. Such a thing just wasn’t done.
The master is angry and insulted with the excuses, but all the food for the feast had already been prepared. So, he breaks with cultural norms and invites “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21). Such a thing was unheard of in the caste system of the day! Once the untouchables show up, there is still room for more, and so the master reaches even deeper into people on the margins of society and invites them in.
Notice the progression: “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys…and country lanes…” (Luke 14:21 and 23). “Streets” are broad roads traveled by many people. “Alleys” are narrow roads or side paths, located in cities but inhabited by outcasts. “Country lanes” were outside of town. The master is determined his banquet hall will be full. Even if it means going beyond social norms and social stratifications of the day! Even it means invited the untouchables and socializing with the outcasts.
Jesus’ point goes far beyond simple humility. If you are feasting at the table of God’s grace it is because He looked past your pitiful condition and invited you in from the street; from the alley; from the gutter. We are all poor and crippled and lame and blind. Furthermore, as citizens of His kingdom, our mission is to invite others to the table of grace. Those we invite, are to include the outcasts, the drunkard, the poor, the prisoner, and all those whom society has forgotten and whom society has turned their back. We are to continue Jesus’ radical reversal of all things. The magnificent feast He has prepared is fit for a peasant.
In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, across from the city dump, is a school for the children of the dump called Armor, Fe, Y Esperanza (“Love, Faith, and Hope”). The school is a ministry of a Honduran pastor Jeony Ordonez, loving called “Pastor Jeony.” Pastor Jeony began his ministry by building trust among the people of the dump. Most of those living and working in the dump had become cynical of pastors and politicians. Periodically, pastors and politicians would travel to the dump to earn sympathy points and photo ops. In order to earn their trust, Pastor Jeony began eating meals with the people. These meals included rotten vegetables and spoiled meet. These meals almost killed him, but over time he established a relationship with these beautiful, but forgotten, people. Now there is a church there. Pastor Jeony still works with them, but so does my very good friend Cesar Lopez.
To me, these wonderful people are the people Jesus had in mind when He told this parable. But you don’t have to travel to Honduras to see people in need. You don’t have to travel to a far off land to encounter the poor and the crippled and the lame and the blind and the addict and the marginalized and the forgotten. All you have to do is open your eyes and walk down the streets and the alleys and the country roads of our own community. And there you will find those Jesus as asked us to go and invite to this wonderful banquet. It truly is a feast fit for a peasant.