Jesus is surely the greatest storyteller the world has ever known. His stories, also known as parables, are lively, exciting, challenging and filled with teaching. Every time we read one of Jesus’ parables, we learn something new through them. They speak into our lives like no other storyteller has.
We all have our favorite parables: the Parable of the Sower perhaps, or the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Mine is the Parable of the Lost Sons, sometimes called the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but there were two sons in the story! Jesus leaves us with a cliff-hanger ending as we don’t know what happens to the second, older, son!
But there is a parable that can be troubling, a parable that can be misunderstood, used negatively, used unhelpfully. A parable that can be, and sometimes is, wrongly applied to suggest that people with special/additional needs or disabilities are second class, lower in importance, of lesser priority. It is the Parable of the Great Feast. Jesus Himself is at a dinner and there is a fuss about who should sit in the seat of most honor. (Read the passage in Luke 14, after this article). Jesus then tells a story about a great feast, alluding to the Great Feast of Heaven.
First, invitations were sent out to many guests, but when the time for the banquet came, the guests all made excuses and said they couldn’t come. This is where the parable gets tricky, because Jesus continues by saying that the host was furious at these snubs to his invitation and so ordered his servants to invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” to the feast instead.
At first glance this might look like Jesus was saying that this second group of invitees were second best, only to be invited when no one else was available. This parable has certainly been interpreted as such by some. I think this, however, would be a mistaken and inappropriate view of what Jesus was saying.
I believe that Jesus is sharing two things with us. First, that if all we do is share what we have with our friends and family—or, dare I say, our ‘clique’ within our congregation!—are we just sharing with those who might then invite us back, or be useful to us in some way? In Jesus’ time, those he described as “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” would usually have had very little social standing, and no wealth in monetary terms, so a return invitation, or influence gained through inviting them, would be unlikely. Jesus Himself does not have to defend his record here, with the Gospels packed full of his encounters with people that society at that time looked down on, although He never did.
Secondly, Jesus is hinting that change had come through Him. Until Jesus, God was the God only of the Jews. Through Jesus, He would become the God of the Gentiles too, of all peoples, of all of us who believe, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” John 3:16
I think Jesus, the ‘Son of David’ had a similar attitude to those he was speaking about to that of his great ancestor, King David himself. In 2 Samuel 9 (see full passage after this article) David enquires if there are any surviving family members of his friend Jonathan, the son of King Saul. He is informed that there is one, Mephibosheth, “…one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive. He is crippled in both feet.” David seemingly ignores Mephibosheth’s disability as irrelevant and invites him back into the royal court, to a place of honor, in memory of his friendship with his father, Jonathan. Thereafter, Mephibosheth ate at the King’s table regularly. He was welcomed because he was wanted, not because of any influence he had.
What Jesus is teaching us through his parable is that we shouldn’t just pick our favorites for the team, choose only our friends for a meal, or reach out in ministry only to those who the world views as having influence or who can help us financially; that all are equal, all can and must be invited to the ‘Great Banquet’ which is in Heaven itself.
And that includes, that must include, children and young people with special/additional needs or disabilities. As in Jesus’ time, children with disabilites can often be on the margins of society, and unwittingly—or worse, deliberately—left out. They can be viewed as too difficult to work with, or to have too challenging behavior, or require too many changes to “how we do things here.” Jesus does not see children with additional needs or disabilities as second best, He wants them included, welcomed, to belong, to have places of honor at the table of the Great Banquet. And Jesus doesn’t want us to treat them as second best either, inviting anyone else, everyone else, first.
David dismissed Mephibosheth’s disability as irrelevant, as no barrier to inviting him. We could do worse than to follow His lead, and to follow Jesus’ teaching, when a child with additional needs or a disability arrives at our church. Better yet, we should go out into our communities, find people with disabilities and invite them to join us! We should welcome them into the Great Feast, and to enjoy the banquet with everyone together!
Mark Arnold is the Additional Needs Ministry Director for Urban Saints Church, Luton, Bedfordshire, UK. Follow his writing at https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.com
Jesus Teaches about Humility, Luke 14:7-24 (NLT)
7 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: 8 “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? 9 The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. 13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”
Parable of the Great Feast
15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet[c] in the Kingdom of God!”
16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”
David’s Kindness to Mephibosheth, 2 Samuel 9 (NLT)
1 One day David asked, “Is anyone in Saul’s family still alive—anyone to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 He summoned a man named Ziba, who had been one of Saul’s servants. “Are you Ziba?” the king asked. “Yes sir, I am,” Ziba replied.
3 The king then asked him, “Is anyone still alive from Saul’s family? If so, I want to show God’s kindness to them.” Ziba replied, “Yes, one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive. He is crippled in both feet.”
4 “Where is he?” the king asked. “In Lo-debar,” Ziba told him, “at the home of Makir son of Ammiel.”
5 So David sent for him and brought him from Makir’s home. 6 His name was Mephibosheth[a]; he was Jonathan’s son and Saul’s grandson. When he came to David, he bowed low to the ground in deep respect. David said, “Greetings, Mephibosheth.” Mephibosheth replied, “I am your servant.”
7 “Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!”
8 Mephibosheth bowed respectfully and exclaimed, “Who is your servant, that you should show such kindness to a dead dog like me?"
9 Then the king summoned Saul’s servant Ziba and said, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. 10 You and your sons and servants are to farm the land for him to produce food for your master’s household.[b] But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, will eat here at my table.” (Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)
11 Ziba replied, “Yes, my lord the king; I am your servant, and I will do all that you have commanded.” And from that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly at David’s table,[c] like one of the king’s own sons.
12 Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica. From then on, all the members of Ziba’s household were Mephibosheth’s servants. 13 And Mephibosheth, who was crippled in both feet, lived in Jerusalem and ate regularly at the king’s table.