Author: Ron Graham


Parable of the Slighted Invitation
—Does God’s grace invite or compel?

The Parable of the Slighted Invitation (Luke 14:15-24) is about people invited to a dinner. When they refused the invitation, other people were rounded up and compelled to attend. What is this saying about grace and choice?

Luke 14:15-24

¶“15When one of those who reclined at table with Jesus heard these things, he said to Jesus, 'Blessed are all who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!' 16But Jesus said to him, "A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17And at the time for the banquet he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'”

¶“ 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and inspect it. Please have me excused.' 19And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to examine them. Please have me excused.' 20And another said, 'I have married a wife, and so I can't come.' 21So the slave came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out quickly to the streets and laneways of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.'”

¶“22And the slave said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' 23And the master said to the slave, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, to fill my house. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'"” (Luke 14:15-24).

This parable illustrates the rejection of Jesus by many of his own Jewish countrymen, contrasted with the acceptance of Jesus by Gentiles (eg Acts 13:46-49). As John says, "He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God —to those who believe" (John 1:11-12).

John goes on to say that people receive grace from God without reference to their bloodline or fleshly genealogy. It's God who decides who receives grace and who doesn't (John 1:13). The parable is about what God wills.

Now some may teach that the people in Luke 14:17 who were invited had “total inability” to accept, whilst those in Luke 14:23 were compelled by “irresistable grace” with no ability to refuse. The main issue here is not freedom of choice. The main issue is whether everyone is blessed with an invitation from God that God wishes them to accept (Acts 17:30-31).

1 An Invitation that Compels

Too much can be made of the distinction between inviting and compelling. Certainly they sound opposites and could be opposites. However, in most invitations there is a measure of compulsion, according to the inviter’s authority and the consequence of refusal. You may fear that you will offend the inviter, so you feel compelled to accept. Or you may fear that you will miss out on some priveleges if you refuse, so you feel compelled to accept. Or the invitation may in fact be more a summons. An invitation that says, “Your lord desires your presence at his feast” might imply that if you dare to refuse his dinner you'll be made a guest in his dungeon!

So when we consider the choice we are given between heaven or hell (unless you know of a third choice), we realize that we are both "invited" and "compelled" to accept Jesus (Mark 16:15-16). We have the choice, but one choice is wise and the other is foolish, and who wants to be a fool?

2 An Invitation that Commands

If you had trouble following the point above, just think of the gospel invitation as a command. For example, "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come'!" (Revelation 22:17, cf Matthew 11:28-30). Is this “Come!” an invitation or a command? It's both, isn't it? When someone in authority issues an invitation, that invitation should be regarded as a command —especially if there is an “or else” stated or implied. The parables imply that God invites us to come to him and to partake of eternal life. But in that invitation to reconciliation God not only grants the privelege (Acts 11:18), he commands it (Acts 17:30), and wills it (2Peter 3:9).

3 An Invitation that Calls

One of the most important descriptions of the gospel invitation is “calling”. As Peter says, "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2Peter 1:10). Peter on the day of Pentecost said that God’s promise was to "as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:38-39). Paul assures us, "Faithful is he who calls you" (1Thessalonians 5:24).

When God calls, we can say, “I come!” or we can be utter fools and say otherwise —for which there will be terrible consequences.