Lectionary Reflection for August 29, 2010
This text is part of a larger unit. It consists of an opening scenario from Jesus’ ministry, a Sabbath meal with religious leaders at which an uninvited guest appears (the man with dropsy 14:1-5), a parable sparked by Jesus’ observation of how guests choose their seats (25:7-24), followed by a longer parable about a wedding banquet. 14:7-14 deals with behavior when we’re on the receiving end of a banquet invitation. 14:15-24 deals with behavior when we’re on the giving end of a banquet. The contrast between the invited guests and the uninvited intruder is thematic to 14:1-24. We are to attend God’s banquet (the Messianic banquet) with a spirit of humility. We are to host others in the meantime in a spirit of inclusivity, treating the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind as guests of honor (14: 13, 21).
The text begins with a scene from Jesus ‘ministry: he is in the home of a leader of the Pharisees for a Sabbath meal. The combination of the detail that “they were watching him closely,” the presence of lawyers and Pharisees, and the man’s sudden appearance may indicate that this was “staged” to trap Jesus (Ellis, 192). This scene is almost identical to the scene from last week where Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath, the leader of the synagogue objects and Jesus offers corrective teaching. In this earlier story, we learn that “all his opponents were put to shame (13:17).” Here (14:6) “they could not reply to this.” Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath epitomizes his valuing of relationships over rules. For these religious leaders, rules take precedence over relationships. Jesus’ question in verse 5 reveals that they relate to their oxen with more compassion than they show in their attitude toward the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Says one biblical scholar “Jesus undresses their concealed and half-forgotten motives and lays them naked on the dinner table” (Ellis 192).
As all of this is going on, Jesus is noticing how guests are choosing their seats, and this sparks a brief parable (14:7-14) in which he gives advice on how we are to behave when we are on the receiving end of an invitation to a banquet. His advice is similar to the teaching of Proverbs 25:6, 7 about where to sit and stand in social gatherings at the king’s court. Jesus takes a piece of advice that could have shown up in an advice column of his day and applies it to how we are to behave in the presence of God. He is not just giving etiquette advice about feasts. He is expressing the fact that, when we answer the invitation to the banquet of the kingdom of God, we had better enter by humbling ourselves (Wenham 167). Elsewhere Jesus warns his disciples against seeking positions of power in the Kingdom of God. (Luke 22:24-27; Mark 10:35-45; Matthew 20: 20-28), and he criticizes the Pharisees for their religious pride (Luke 11:43; 20:45-47) (Marshall 581).
At banquets of that time the most important guests arrived late. The place of honor reserved for them was the head end of the table or, if it was a banquet at which guests reclined, the middle seat at the middle couch. It would be a public embarrassment to assume you were the most distinguished guest present, to take that seat, and then have to give it up. Your exalted view of yourself would be on public display and would be a source of shame. We would much rather keep our exalted view of ourselves a secret!
After Jesus’ advice in verses 7-11 about appropriate behavior when invited to God’s banquet, he offers advice about how we are to host banquets that, in the present time, incorporate kingdom values (14:12-14). We are to invite that twice repeated foursome of guests: the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind (14:13, 21). We are to invite the very guests the Pharisees object to Jesus healing. We are to invite the very guests they object to even being present at their tables. The last person on their list, in fact, the person not on their lists at all would be a crippled woman (13:10) or a man with dropsy (14:2). These individuals would sully the ritual purity of their table, since physical infirmities were believed to be signs of sin.
The word blessed (makarios) shows up twice in this chapter (14:14; 14:15). Jesus, in 14:14, says “You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you…” and, in 14:15, one of the dinner guests says “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The name for this form of saying is beatitude. Christians sometimes assume that Jesus invented the beatitude, but they are a common form in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 30:13 and Jeremiah 17:7). They are also found in Greek literature where the blessings promised are largely materialistic. In the biblical context blessedness describes happiness that comes from a right relationship with God, as opposed to a more material understanding of good fortune or emotional bliss. (See Psalm 1:1-2; 33:12) (McKenzie, 33). Jesus is telling us that offering kindness to those who cannot repay us and inviting those who have nothing to God’s banquet sets our relationship with God on a right course.
One of the dinner guests, hearing this teaching of Jesus about whom we should invite to our banquets, offers a spontaneous beatitude of his own: “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (14:15) We are to understand that blessedness comes into our lives when we realize who the guest of honor really is. Blessedness comes into our lives when we treat the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind as guests of honor. When we exalt them rather than ourselves, we are already eating bread in the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is not yet, but it is already present in Jesus’ table fellowship with outcasts, his exorcisms and his healings.
Who was the guest of honor in the banquet Jesus attended? The leader of the Pharisees (14:1-6) thought he was it. But it was the man with dropsy. Who is the guest of honor in the banquets we attend? We may think we are it, but humiliation awaits such an assumption. Who is the guest of honor in the banquets we are to host, a foretaste of the messianic banquet? Those who may seem to have nothing to offer us back: the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Who is the guest of honor at the messianic banquet in the kingdom of God yet to come?
The guest of honor is the one who said, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28). Says Jesus in Luke, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). The guest of honor is among us.
E. Earle Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, The New Century Bible (Greenwood, South Carolina: The Attic Press).
I. Howard Marshall, The New Interational Greek Testament Commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978)
Alyce M. McKenzie, The Interpretation Bible Studies Commentary on Matthew (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).
David Wenham, The Parables of Jesus (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1989).
Alyce M. McKenzie is Professor Of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology.