Luke 14:1, 7-14
LUKE 14:1-6. EATING BREAD WITH PHARISEES
1It happened, when he went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on a Sabbath to eat bread, that they were watching him….
Meals are important in Luke-Acts. Jesus’ critics accused Jesus of being a winebibber and a glutton (7:34). He has been the guest of a Pharisee at meals on other occasions (7:36; 11:37). The hunger of a great crowd gave rise to a great feeding miracle (9:12-17). At a Passover meal, Jesus will make a Eucharist of ordinary wine and bread (22:14-20). He will be revealed to disciples through the breaking of bread (24:35). The Jerusalem church will criticize Peter for eating with uncircumcised men (Acts 11:1-3). Meals in Luke-Acts are about feeding the soul as much as about feeding the body. Sharing bread creates relationships and prepares disciples for the day when “They will come from the east, west, north, and south, and will sit down in the Kingdom of God” (13:29).
Jesus often has harsh words for Pharisees, so we wonder why a leader of the Pharisees would invite him to dinner. Jesus has a growing reputation as a prophet, and that might be the reason. Also, Luke tells us that “they were watching him closely,” so it is clear that they hope that Jesus will make a mistake that they can exploit.
We might also ask why Jesus would accept such an invitation. He is obviously not intimidated by those in power, and he extends his ministry to include them. While the pride of the elite might block them from receiving God’s grace, that grace is nevertheless available to them. It is not Jesus who withdraws from the sinner, but the sinner who withdraws from Jesus.
Every leader is subject to scrutiny, and Jesus is a leader. His followers look to him for direction, and his enemies probe him for weakness. As diligent as his enemies might be, they can find nothing other than the false charges that will lead to his crucifixion.
While verses 2-6 are not part of the lectionary reading, we need to be aware of them. Jesus sees a man with dropsy and asks, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (v. 3). Note that he does not ask if it is lawful to do work on the Sabbath, but instead asks if it is lawful to cure people. They fail to answer, so he heals the man and sends him away. He then says, “Which of you, if your son or an ox fell into a well, wouldn’t immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” (v. 5). Again, they fail to answer.
This is Jesus’ fourth and final Sabbath controversy (and his third and final Sabbath healing) in this Gospel (see 6:1-5; 6:6-11; 13:10-17). Both this story and the healing of the woman in 13:10-17 show that he was less concerned with the letter of the law than about loving God and neighbor. In these instances, Jesus demonstrates his love by helping those in need.
LUKE 14:7-11. TAKE THE LOWEST PLACE
7He spoke a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the best seats, and said to them, 8“When you are invited by anyone to a marriage feast, don’t sit in the best seat, since perhaps someone more honorable than you might be invited by him, 9and he who invited both of you would come and tell you, ‘Make room for this person.’ Then you would begin, with shame, to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes, he may tell you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
“when he noticed how they chose the best seats” (v. 7b – see also 11:43; 20:46). The best seats are those nearest the host. It is so even today. The boss sits at the head of the table, flanked by top lieutenants. Key staff members sit at the table, and others sit at the back of the room. A savvy person can walk into the room and determine rank simply by observing where people sit.
We see the same phenomenon at sporting events where the best seats are closest to the action—or, better yet, in comfortable boxes elevated above and separated from the crowd. A person with the right connections can always get a good ticket. A person without connections might not be able to purchase a ticket at any price.
We like the best seats. The view is better, of course, but the appeal goes beyond the view. Sitting in the best seats makes us feel superior, and our fine seats trumpet our superior status to ordinary folk.
“He spoke a parable” (v. 7a). Luke characterizes Jesus’ remarks as a parable, cueing us that Jesus is speaking of kingdom issues instead of offering advice about self-promotion.
“don’t sit in the best seat… but…go and sit down at the lowest place” (vv. 8, 10). Jesus’ advice not to sit uninvited in the place of honor restates the counsel of Proverbs 25:6-7. It makes practical sense, because assertiveness puts one at risk of embarrassment. However, we have seen assertive people grab honors and hang onto them through thick and thin, so aggressiveness has rewards as well as risks. But Jesus is not telling us how to advance in the kingdom of this world, but is revealing how things work in the kingdom of God.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”(v. 11). This is the rule for life in the kingdom of God—a polar reversal that turns our familiar world upside down to reveal a world with very different rules. Luke first introduced this reversal in Mary’s Song, where she sang, “He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down princes from their thrones. And has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty” (1:51-53).
By alerting us to this impending reversal, Jesus helps to prepare us for life in God’s kingdom, a place that seems at once strange and wonderful and threatening. Just as we would prepare for life in a foreign land by learning the language and customs, so we also need to prepare for the kingdom of God by learning and following Kingdom Rules now. Indeed, the kingdom of God becomes a present reality and not just a future hope when we acknowledge God as king and live by Kingdom Rules. Christians live with one foot in the kingdom of this world and the other foot in the kingdom of God.
The danger is that we might misinterpret Jesus’ words as a backdoor strategy for self-promotion instead of a call to humble service—that we might hear him calling us to humble ourselves as the pathway to exaltation.
LUKE 14:12-14. ASK THE POOR
12He also said to the one who had invited him, “When you make a dinner or a supper, don’t call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbors, or perhaps they might also return the favor, and pay you back. 13But when you make a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame, or the blind; 14and you will be blessed, because they don’t have the resources to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous.”
“He also said to the one who had invited him” (v. 12a). Jesus turns his attention to the host. People are inclined to invite those who can return the favor—those who have something to offer in return. Jesus warns the host (and us) not to invite the four groups of people (friends, brothers, relatives, or rich neighbors) that he would enjoy the most, and tells him to invite the four groups of people (the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind) that he would enjoy the least. Note that the crippled, lame and blind constitute a group of outsiders who are forbidden to serve as priests because of their physical imperfections (Leviticus 21:17-23).
Jesus advises against inviting favored persons in case “they might also return the favor, and pay you back” (v. 12). If we instead invite non-favored persons, “you will be blessed, because they don’t have the resources to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous” (v. 14). Jesus calls us to trust God to repay what the disenfranchised cannot, and promises that God will repay us at the resurrection of the righteous.
This passage is reminiscent of other “rewards” passages:
• “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:43-46).
• Jesus warns us against the danger of practicing piety or giving alms publicly, because we then receive our reward from our admirers. Rather, we should practice piety and give alms privately “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:1-6).
• “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35).
“But when you make a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame, or the blind” (v. 13). Jesus does not encourage remote charity that only sends a check, but instead calls us to invite the poor and disenfranchised to sit at our table, one of the most intimate places in our home. By doing so, we provide food for both body and soul.
The lesson is clear. God calls us to kingdom values, and blesses us when we seek to please God rather than other people. “True godliness is a reckless investment in the parts of the world that beg for attention in real need but that show no potential of paying back dividends. Yet, Jesus promises that God sees and that God will pay the interest on an investment in the vulnerable elements of humankind” (Soard).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012, Richard Niell Donovan