The Great Supper "Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many" (Luke xiv. verse 16)
The parables alone furnish us with a liberal education in spiritual truth. Story after story is told by the Lord in the endeavour not only to impart concrete teaching on vital subjects of spiritual well-being, but in order to interpret the spirit of Divine attitude to man. Perhaps nothing is more valuable in the parables than this revelation of the Lord's loving, tender regard for erring human nature. It is possible for the scholar, in his analysis of theological doctrines, to discern the merciful providence, the loving-kindness, the untiring efforts of Divine activity on man's behalf. He is able to perceive how all Divine process leads to good - casts all human experience in a mould tending towards perfection. The analysis of spiritual principle discloses this. But all cannot indulge in such abstract study, and it is the unique power of the Divine parables to supply, ready-made, the very result which the scholar attains through technical study. In His parables, the Lord seems to say "Even if you cannot understand all I have come to effect, even if the Divine purposes and attitude are obscure to you, look upon your Father in heaven as a Shepherd seeking His lost sheep, as One who welcomes back His prodigal son, as a Sower flinging with liberal hands the good of heaven to all; look upon the life of heaven as a hidden treasure to be procured at all costs, as a goodly pearl, as talents to be used, as leaven that makes palatable all experience". To analyse a specific teaching of the Lord without paying any attention to the affectionate appeal of the parable which clothes the teaching is to divest the teaching of its greatest value. Such affection, such deep and undying love on the part of the Lord does not, be it noted, justify man in folding his arms in inactivity. The prodigal son suffers, and suffers severely, until he returns. But the onus of the suffering is clear from the parable, and the onus of human suffering can clearly be placed nowhere but with humanity itself. And in the parable of our present consideration, the Lord reveals Himself as calling men to a great supper to participate with Him in a festivity. Can we ask for a more affectionate and more generous attitude on the part of the Lord? How utterly foreign is the spirit of this invitation to the Calvinistic idea of Divine intention! "Come, for all things are now ready ".
We can discern the immediate application of the parable. The Lord had called the Jewish people. Through the prophets of old, He had promised this great communion with Himself. And on His coming, when the hour of the Supper had struck, the bidden guests were called. And the excuses of Judaism began to be uttered. The Scribes and Pharisees did not literally give excuses, for they did not believe the hour had come. But their life and interests were such that they prevented their acceptance. Concerns of self-interest withheld them from the proffered joy. Those of them who listened to the teaching of Jesus would regard it as utterly impracticable, for they would have in mind the great organised church with its material interests and policies, and their own personal offices in the government and Sanhedrin. The appeal of the Lord would find no room even for a superficial consideration, so weighty, so imperative did the excuses of other interests appear to be.
And so when the hour of the Supper came, when mankind was called to so close a communion with the Lord, He who summoned the guests found none, and was forced to send into the streets and lanes, the highways and hedges and bring in with compulsion the halt and maimed. How extreme that phrase, " compel them to come in that my House may be filled "!
A feast, the wide world over, is the instrument of joyous association. The guest partakes of the host's provision; the host's delight is in the guest's delight. And so the joy is reciprocal. When the Lord is Host, the analogy holds good, and is indeed intensified. Our supper with Him is our spiritual reception of good purposes and affections and of true principles and thoughts. These benefits are infinitely superior to material gifts, although in our present unenlightened state of life it may seem that those who actually sat at meat with the Lord in Palestine were blessed supremely. It is, nevertheless, a sober fact of spiritual truth that communion with the Lord today is a more real communion than was possible to a disciple two thousand years ago. The association is closer, the food is spiritual instead of material, and the benefits to heart and mind are consequently immeasurably richer. In a sense the whole human race is guest to the Lord. The earth yields food for all men. But the imperfections of such a feast are plain. The Host is widely unknown and still more widely unacknowledged. And hence there is but little reciprocity. The world feeds, ignorant of or unconcerned about its Host. And such a feast as this supplies the needs only of our natural physical life. It is common to all, and hence includes those who, while boasting of some knowledge of the Host, systematically oppose His Will in life. The real feast is spiritual, and here the association aimed at is eternal, the needs supplied are the needs of the spirit which is abiding. This is no mere provision of temporal needs, the things we require from day to day for physical life. The state of society at different periods of history proves only too conclusively that physical needs are of little use when spiritual needs are lacking. The wealth of nations, great though it may be, does not guarantee just distribution, it does not assure the bare needs of life to everyone.
Eternal needs, the needs of the soul, are moreover essential needs - essential because they are abiding and because they promote the right use of temporal needs. And so the Lord's invitation is to a consociation with Him by love, a conjunction with Him through truth. By approaching Him, we are offered the nourishment of a right and good spirit of life, the furnishing of the heart with pure disinterested affections and the declaring to the eye of the understanding of eternal principles of heavenly life.
Because the feast is more perfect than the feasts of the world, the communion of guest and Host is infinitely more real. The food of pure affection and the wine of spiritual truth are not the mere provision of the Host - they are His own life. Every primitive race on earth embodies in its customs some corrupt form of communion whereby the god is eaten. The underlying meaning is true and valuable, but it is hidden by ignorance and superstition. Spiritual feasting is the furnishing of the heart and mind with the Lord's own life, we by His Presence within us attaining to greater happiness, He by gaining us, finding further instruments whereby to effect His Will and new objects on which to lavish His Love. It is the urgent, deeply affectionate call of a love that will not let us go.
Let us be quite clear about the issue His table alone supplies the needs of our life - the framing of right purposes, the enlightenment of right thought. And if the thought of happiness impels us, there, too, is our only abiding joy. To look elsewhere is to wander eternally in the desert of want and to lose the touchstone of true delight. The weight of our excuses is the measure of our present foolishness and future grief. His table is set, and He calls.