Can Colonel Sanders teach us something?

Musings on a story Jesus told and the success of an American fast-food restaurant chain

What does Luke 14:12-24 mean for us today?

Luke 14:12-24

Commentary on Luke 14

14 12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, "Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."

16 Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'

18 "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.'

19 "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'

20 "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'

21 "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'

22 "'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'

23 "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'"

Week 12 (March)

Both our children, Matthew and Rachele, were asking about food. I looked at my watch. It was about noon. Just ahead on the right, I saw the familiar red-and-white roof of a Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant. So we stopped there.

As we sat eating at a table inside, I found myself reading the end of the cardboard box our chicken had come in. "Colonel Sanders has 5,000 restaurants," it said. Five thousand? Why, we Nazarenes have that many churches in the U.S. Yet, I wondered: Is the Church of the Nazarene as well known as the Colonel's chicken?

There are, of course, valid reasons for Colonel Sanders' company being able to fill up its restaurants. Those reasons include a distinctive product, an aggressive marketing strategy, an ability to meet a felt need, and well-placed, highly visible facilities.

Is there any reason the Church of the Nazarene shouldn't be as well known as the Colonel? In fact, in the parable of the great feast in Luke 14, Jesus seems to be saying to us that we, as His servants, ought to be possessed with an urgency and act with a loving persuasiveness that exceeds anything this world is used to seeing.

The passionate wish of the Master is to have an absolutely full house. In Jesus' parable, the nobleman told his servants to keep searching and persuading until his banquet hall was completely filled. If those who were invited first did not respond, they were to keep looking until they found enough people who would respond.

From this parable, we can conclude that it grieves Jesus even more than us to see empty seats in church sanctuaries. Sometimes, I'm not sure it really grieves us at all. For example, not long ago the Sunday school leader in a small American church said to me: "Well, the people in this town know the church is here. They can come if they want to. They know the doors are open."

Sadly, it appeared that the hearing of a thousand excuses and being discouraged over and over again by people refusing to admit their spiritual needs had caused that little church to retreat from its commitment to fulfilling this command of Christ. They were not like the man preparing the banquet in Jesus' parable. That man did not give up when invitees said they were too busy to come.

How tragic that God's people have given up inviting people to the banquet! Jesus said we must be prepared to compel. And in fact, some insistence may be needed to overcome the incredulity of people as to our invitation being meant seriously. The poor, the disadvantaged, and the minorities may be especially wary of our attempts to win them. Still, Jesus said: "Compel them!" or as the Complete Jewish Bible put it, "Insistently persuade them."

After we'd been in Florence, Italy a couple of years, we put a new sign in front of the church building. In addition to giving a schedule of services, we added the phrase, "Ingresso Libero" (literally free entry, but really meaning "Everyone Welcome").

A few weeks later I was doing some door-to-door canvassing in the neighborhood. At one door a young woman said, "I walked past your church building the other day and noticed your new sign. I didn't realize outsiders were welcome in your meetings. I'd like to come visit someday."

That evening, I wondered to myself how many others in the neighborhood thought that the "banquets" inside our little building were closed to outsiders. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me get on with the "compelling" in the Peretola/Piazza Puccini neighborhoods of Florence, Italy. [ Missionary stories from Italy ]

Why has the Colonel been able to make such an impact on the United States with 5,000 restaurants? Does he have something going for him that we don't have? I don't think so. Maybe it's just that we have not been doing enough "compelling."

Discussion questions

  1. What is the meaning of Luke 14:12-24, and how can we apply it to our lives today?
  2. How does the parable of the great feast in Luke 14 show Jesus' desire for His house to be full. What does this mean for the church?
  3. How might the Church apply the lessons of the parable of the great feast to its outreach efforts and evangelism strategies?
  4. In what ways can the Church overcome people's reluctance or skepticism towards its invitation to join the banquet, especially among the poor, disadvantaged, and minorities?

Note:This reflection is not meant to suggest we should emulate the advertising and promotional gimmicks of fast-food outlets. It was simply a thought that we have something even better to offer people and we should be doing our best to let people know about it.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

I wrote these devotional thoughts while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. They were published in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes produced by The Foundry.

Words from a century ago on filling empty seats in church buildings

"If God is at work week by week raising men from the dead, there will always be people coming to see how it is done. You cannot find an empty church that has conversion for its leading feature.

"Do you want to know how to fill empty chapels? Here is the answer: Get your Lazarus."

    -- Samuel Chadwick, Methodist evangelist and educator (1860-1932)

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