(1) Into the house of one of the chief Pharisees.—Better, of the rulers of the Pharisees. The meaning of the phrase is probably more definite than that suggested by the English. The man was either a “ruler” in the same sense as Nicodemus (John 3:1), or the rich young man in Luke 18:18 - i.e., a member of the Sanhedrin (which seems most likely)—or else occupied a high position in the lay-hierarchy (if the phrase may be allowed) which had developed itself in the organisation of Pharisaism.
To eat bread on the Sabbath day.—Sabbath feasts were then, as at a later time, part of the social life of the Jews, and were often—subject, of course, to the condition that the food was cold—occasions of great luxury and display. Augustine speaks of them as including dancing and song, and the “Sabbath luxury” of the Jews became a proverb. On the motives of the Pharisee—probably half respect and half curiosity—see Notes on Luke 7:36.
Fallen into a pit.—Literally, into a well, as in John 4:6-11, but the word was applied also, as in Revelation 9:1-2, to “wells without water”—i.e., as here, to “pits.”
And will not straightway pull him out.—The words appeal to the common action and natural impulse of men, but the casuistry of the Pharisees had, as a matter of fact, given a different answer. Food might be let down to the ox or ass, but no effort to pull him out was to be made till the Sabbath rest was over.
Chief rooms.—Better, chief places, or chief couches; literally, the chief places to recline in after the Eastern fashion. This, again, implies the semi-public character of the feast. The host did not at first place his guests according to his own notions of fitness. They were left to struggle for precedence. What follows is hardly a parable in our modern sense of the term, but is so called as being something more than a mere precept, and as illustrated by a half-dramatic dialogue.
Lest a more honourable man than thou . . .—The words imply that the common practice was for the guests to seat themselves; then, as in the parable of the wedding garment (Matthew 22:11), the host came in “to see the guests.”
Friend.—The Greek word is not the same as in Matthew 20:13 (where see Note), Matthew 22:12; Matthew 26:50, but is the same as in John 11:11; John 15:14. The difference is suggestive. The first word addressed to the humble and lowly guest speaks of confidence and affection. He is welcomed as, in the highest sense, the “friend” of the giver of the feast.
Worship . . .—Better, honour, or glory, the same word as in John 5:44; John 12:43.
Thy friends, nor thy brethren.—The words were clearly chosen as including the classes of guests who were then present. Our Lord saw in that Sabbath feast nothing but an ostentatious hospitality, calculating on a return in kind. It might not be wrong in itself, but it could take no place, as the Pharisee clearly thought it would do, in the list of good works by which he sought to win God’s favour. The very fact that it met with its reward on earth excluded it, almost ipso facto, from the reward of the resurrection of the just.
And bade many.—The sequel determines the primary application of the word to the Jewish people. But it need hardly be said that it admits of manifold secondary, or even tertiary, applications through the whole history of the many churches of Christendom.
To make excuse.—To beg off would, perhaps, be too colloquial, but it exactly expresses the force of the Greek verb.
I have bought a piece of ground.—The Greek noun implies a little more than the English—better, perhaps, a farm (see Notes on Mark 6:36); and the tense in each case is strictly one in which a man naturally speaks of the immediate past—“I bought but now.”
The streets and lanes . . .—See Note on Matthew 6:2. The former word includes the “piazza” or “place” of an Eastern town; the latter is the long, narrow “street” or “lane” hardly wide enough for a man to ride through. It is the word used for the “street called straight” in Damascus (Acts 9:11). In the application of the parable these represent the by-ways of Jewish life—the suburbs, and the wretched courts and alleys, which no scribe deigned to enter, and which lay entirely outside the notice and the functions of the priesthood. “The poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind” are the publicans and sinners and harlots and men of violence, who obeyed the summons and pressed eagerly into the kingdom. The repetition of the same four adjectives as had been used in Luke 14:13 is singularly suggestive. Our Lord was following, in the spiritual feast of His kingdom, the very rule which He had given for those who made great feasts on earth. Each class may possibly represent some spiritual fact which would seem to men a disqualification, but which was, for the pitying love of Christ, the very ground of invitation and acceptance.
Compel them to come in.—It would have seemed all but incredible, had it not been too painfully and conspicuously true, that men could have seen in these words a sanction to the employment of force and pains and penalties as means of converting men to the faith of Christ. To us it seems almost a truism to say that such means may produce proselytes and hypocrites, but cannot possibly produce converts. There is, of course, something that answers to this “compulsion” in the work of Christian preachers, but the weapons of their warfare are not carnal (2 Corinthians 10:4), and the constraint which they bring to bear on men is that of “the love of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:14) The only instances of the other kind of compulsion in the Apostolic age are when Saul “compelled” men and women to blaspheme (Acts 26:11), or the Judaisers “compelled” Gentile converts to be circumcised (Galatians 2:14; Galatians 6:12).
That my house may be filled.—It is obvious that we cannot introduce space-limits into the interpretation of the parable. The gates of the Father’s house are open for evermore, and in its “many mansions” (John 14:2) there is, and ever will be, room for all who come.
In the spiritual interpretation of the two parables, the tower reminds us of the house in Matthew 7:24-27, and so stands for the structure of a holy life reared on the one Foundation; the warfare brings to our remembrance the conflict described in Matthew 12:29. Here it stands partly for the conflict which every Christian carries on against sin, the world, and the devil, and of which we should take a clear estimate before we enter on it, partly for the greater war on which Christ Himself had entered, and of which He too had counted the cost— that being, in His case, nothing less than the sacrifice of His own life.