It is the Sabbath, and after he healed a man on Sabbath, Jesus is invited to a meal at the house of a leading Pharisee. Jesus often has harsh words for the Pharisees. Why would a leader of the Pharisees invite him to dinner? Luke tells us that “they were watching him closely.” They are watching and waiting for Jesus to make a mistake. Then why would Jesus accept such an invitation? He is extending his ministry to include them. The pride of the Pharisees might prevent them from receiving God’s grace, but God’s grace is always available to them. It is not Jesus who withdraws from the sinner, but the sinner who withdraws from Jesus.
In the first-century Greco-Roman society, meals were occasions that particularly highlighted social disparities. Jesus cautions about seeking out the most honourable seats. One has to be humble. “In the presence of the king do not give yourself airs, do not take a place among the great; better to be invited, ‘Come up here’ – Proverb 25:6-7.
Humility was not considered a virtue in Greco-Roman moral standard. Humility is, however, a mark of the followers of Jesus (e.g. Luke 1:48, 52; 18:14; Sirach 3:18; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 5:5).
The seating arrangement at the table indicated one’s standing in the community. The best seats are those nearest to the host. It is so even today. Immediate family members will sit with the bride and groom at the front table of the ballroom at their wedding feast. A person with the right connections can always get a good ticket at a concert or a Formula 1 Race. A person without connections might not be able to purchase a ticket at all. We like the best seats, not solely for the better view, but more importantly, sitting at these seats make us feel superior, and they trumpet our superior status to all present.
We are called to be content in whatever place God places us and embrace it (even if it is a lower place). If the host (God) were to raise us to a more prominent place, then it will be more gratifying. We should focus on the work God has for us and let God raise us up. For exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south, but God is the Judge: He puts down one and exalts another. (Psalm 75:6-7) Jesus was the perfect example of one who is worthy of the highest place, but chose the lowest place, and was exalted to the highest place (Philippians 2:5-11). Look not to advance in the kingdom of this world but walk towards the kingdom of God.
In the next parable, Jesus speaks of a banquet. The date of the banquet would have been announced a long time before the day. Many might have accepted the invitation at first, but changed their mind when the actual time was given. This is a grave insult to the host.
The first two excuses given had to do with material things. We are often preoccupied with the new things we get our hands on. Preoccupation with worldly things and experiences are common excuses for not following Jesus. The third excuse had to do with a man who lacked the desire to attend the banquet. There is no rational reason why someone would reject the invitation; he just didn’t want to. “In saying, ‘I cannot come,’ he dismissed the matter. He has made up his mind. Similarly, we who have said “Yes” to God at our baptism, all things are now ready for us to come and sit with God, but like the invited guests we are making our excuses to not be present in HIS presence?
People are inclined to invite those who can return the favour. There is nothing wrong in inviting your friends or your relatives but it is wrong to only invite them. It is easy for us to limit ourselves to a few comfortable people, instead of reaching out to others. Jesus’s counter-cultural message calls for the inclusion of those who cannot repay us: “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13) – who are forbidden to serve as priests because of their physical imperfections (Leviticus 21:17-23). We see the same kind of reversal of expectations and status in other passages in Luke (1:52; 6:20-26; 18:14). Jesus is teaching us about the way we treat others, especially the “outcast” in our midst. We have our ways (not God’s way) of distinguishing one from another, in order to structure our world. These distinctions hinder us from having a true fellowship with one another. We as God’s people are called to humble ourselves and live by a different social system marked by radical inclusion.
Jesus does not encourage remote charity that only sends a cheque to the needy, but instead calls us to invite them to sit at our table, one of the most intimate places in our home. By doing so, we provide food for both their bodies and souls. Meals in Luke are about feeding the soul as much as about feeding the body. Sharing meals create relationships and prepares us to “sit down in the Kingdom of God” (13:29).
“We are called, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself” -Pope Francis. How have you been treating the poor, the less fortunate members in our community? Do you see Jesus in the poor?
Though, those invited refused to attend, there would still be a feast, because the master would not prepare the feast in vain. He is determined to fill his house with guests. Do you want to be excluded from this feast?
Peace, Love & Joy
Philip and Letitia