As we dawn a new year and prioritize between good, better and best, consider the parable of the Great Supper in Luke 14:16-24. The Savior teaches an invaluable lesson about the destructive consequences of allowing worldly excuses to annul the things that matter most.
In the parable, a certain man hosts "a great supper" and bids his guests to attend, saying through his servant, "Come; for all things are now ready" (Luke 14:17). But one by one, the diners who had committed to the feast make excuses, including awaiting a land inspection, caring for oxen, busy with domestic life, etc.
When the excuses are relayed to the master, he commands his servant to go into the streets of the city and invite the poor, the maimed and the blind to the feast. He further instructs the servant to go beyond the city walls to "the highways and hedges" that "my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23).
Because the invitations were made in advance, "we can assume this supper was to be a sumptuous one," writes Elder James E. Talmage in "Jesus the Christ."
Each excuse was credible, yet each allowed personal cares to interfere with the commitment to attend this most important engagement. In each excuse, the guests who declined the invitation lost both the joy and nourishment of the feast and the respect of the royal host.
The refusing guests are the covenant House of Israel. Their personal cares and material wants overshadowed their commitment to the master of the feast.
The second invitation to those in the streets represents the gospel being taken to the gentiles who were looked upon as spiritually poor, maimed and blind. Later, even the pagans beyond the city walls, strangers to the Holy City, were also bidden to the supper, according to Elder Talmage.
Want vs. need
In each of us there is a tug of war between want and need. Wants are often mistaken for needs. Streamlining the social calendar or suppressing certain desires in favor of weightier matters is a challenge. Loyalty to weightier matters rewards both the process and the priority.
Feasting on spiritual things requires accepting and attending the invitation to the feast. It is not enough to placate the master with promises, but to actually attend.
Yet, even a "chosen generation" of "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) can permit worldly cares to overshadow attention to needed spiritual nourishment. Like the guests who declined the invitation to the great supper, we lose the blessings of the feast when worldly cares smother our own best commitments.
Worldly care and commitment
Self-pleasing wants often bully genuine spiritual needs. For example, some excuse social excursions during general conference, thus ignoring real time with prophets and real application of their messages. Others forego family home evening for extracurricular activities scheduled by outsiders with no concern for their family’s eternal welfare. Still others casually approach scripture study and prayer in favor of a variety of dead-end entertainments.
The regal environment
Note the honor bestowed by the host to the invited guests in the parable: royal company, a regal and safe environment and the nourishing potential of an uncommon supper.
As we consider good, better and best, remember the parable of the Great Supper. It is not only a lesson about covenant people losing promised blessings, it is also a warning about the default of distraction. Our desires and choices determine our eternal destiny (see Alma 29:4-5).
In the new year and every day, may we keep our commitment to things that matter most, especially in spiritual matters.
William Monahan graduated from BYU law school. An Air Force veteran and former Phoenix stake president, he teaches law and serves as a high councilor for Queen Creek Arizona Chandler Heights Stake. He begins service July 2012 as a mission president.