The Parable of the Great Supper

(See Luke 14:12–24.)

Elder James E. Talmage wrote:

“[A] festive gathering at the house of the chief Pharisee included persons of prominence and note, rich men and officials, leading Pharisees, renowned scholars, famous rabbis and the like. Looking over the distinguished company, Jesus said: ‘When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.’ This bit of wholesome advice was construed as a reproof; and some one attempted to relieve the embarrassing situation by exclaiming: ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.’ [Compare Matt. 8:11; Rev. 19:9.] The remark was an allusion to the great festival, which according to Jewish traditionalism was to be a feature of signal importance in the Messianic dispensation. Jesus promptly turned the circumstance to good account by basing thereon the profoundly significant Parable of the Great Supper:

“‘A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. 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 hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.’ [Luke 14:16–24.]

“The story implies that invitations had been given sufficiently early to the chosen and prospective guests; then on the day of the feast a messenger was sent to notify them again, as was the custom of the time. Though called a supper, the meal was to be a sumptuous one; moreover, the principal meal of the day was commonly spoken of as supper. One man after another declined to attend, one saying: ‘I pray thee have me excused’; another: ‘I cannot come.’ The matters that engaged the time and attention of those who had been bidden, or as we would say, invited, to the feast, were not of themselves discreditable, far less sinful; but to arbitrarily allow personal affairs to annul an honorable engagement once accepted was to manifest discourtesy, disrespect and practical insult toward the provider of the feast. The man who had bought a field could have deferred the inspection; he who had just purchased cattle could have waited a day to try them under the yoke; and the newly married man could have left his bride and his friends for the period of the supper that he had promised to attend. Plainly none of these people wanted to be present. The master of the house was justly angry. His command to bring in the poor and the maimed, the halt and the blind from the city streets must have appealed to those who listened to our Lord’s recital as reminiscence of His counsel given a few minutes before, concerning the kind of guests a rich man could invite with profit to his soul. The second sending out of the servant, this time into the highways and hedges outside the city walls, to bring in even the country poor, indicated boundless benevolence and firm determination on the householder’s part.

“Explication of the parable was left to the learned men to whom the story was addressed. Surely some of them would fathom its meaning, in part at least. The covenant people, Israel, were the specially invited guests. They had been bidden long enough aforetime, and by their own profession as the Lord’s own had agreed to be partakers of the feast. When all was ready, on the appointed day, they were severally summoned by the Messenger who had been sent by the Father; He was even then in their midst. But the cares of riches, the allurement of material things, and the pleasures of social and domestic life had engrossed them; and they prayed to be excused or irreverently declared they could not or would not come. Then the gladsome invitation was to be carried to the Gentiles, who were looked upon as spiritually poor, maimed, halt, and blind. And later, even the pagans beyond the walls, strangers in the gates of the holy city, would be bidden to the supper. These, surprised at the unexpected summons, would hesitate, until by gentle urging and effective assurance that they were really included among the bidden guests, they would feel themselves constrained or compelled to come. The possibility of some of the discourteous ones arriving later, after they had attended to their more absorbing affairs, is indicated in the Lord’s closing words: ‘For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.’”

(Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 450–52.)