Luke 14:1, 7-14
“On a day of worship Jesus went to eat at the home of a prominent Pharisee. The guests were watching Jesus very closely.
Then Jesus noticed how the guests always chose the places of honor. So he used this illustration when he spoke to them: “When someone invites you to a wedding, don’t take the place of honor. Maybe someone more important than you was invited. Then your host would say to you, ‘Give this person your place.’ Embarrassed, you would have to take the place of least honor. So when you’re invited, take the place of least honor. Then, when your host comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move to a more honorable place.’ Then all the other guests will see how you are honored. Those who honor themselves will be humbled, but people who humble themselves will be honored.”
Then he told the man who had invited him, “When you invite people for lunch or dinner, don’t invite only your friends, family, other relatives, or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they will return the favor. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed because they don’t have any way to pay you back. You will be paid back when those who have God’s approval come back to life.”
Jesus went to eat
What an amazing social calendar our Lord had while on Earth. We often find him dining with unlikely company. With the tax collector Levi and his friends, with Mary and Martha two single sisters, and we have several examples of him dining with Pharisees, who often bore him ill-will. And that is the case today.
Allow me to set the scene a little bit. First off it is the Sabbath so we know it’s not going to be a large Feast with many delicacies, most likely it will be bread, cold meats and some fruit. The tables will be arranged in a U shape with the host at the far left and his most honored guest at the far right. The guests were placed in order according to seniority, or according to the rank they held. The host and guests were seated on the outside of the U. Servants would serve from the inside. This being the Sabbath, there add wui tut yaa would have been no servants.
In ancient Israel they used to sit on mats at a low table cross-legged, much like the Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian countries. But in the hundred years or so of the Roman occupation they have tended to adopt the Roman style of eating which is sitting at a low table, but reclining on cushions. They would recline to the left and feed themselves with their right hand. No eating utensils, just hands. Each set of two people would dip from the same bowl of food.
Often the host would provide water or oil to refresh the face and hair. It was common to clean your hands before eating. This was accomplished without washcloths but with slices of course bread. They would rub their hands upon the bread and let the crumbs fall to the floor for the dogs.
Once all the guests had arrived, the host would close the door and the meal would begin.
I found the following Commentary by Emerson B. Powery (Ph.D., Duke University) is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Messiah College and I’m using it with only minor editing.
Jesus loved the gatherings around meals; at least, that’s what we are led to believe in the Gospel of Luke. This was one of the primary distinctions between him and his ascetic mentor John the Baptist. He doesn’t even deny the charge that he enjoyed more than his share of wine at many meals (Luke 7:33-34
John the Baptizer has come neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘There’s a demon in him!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! He’s a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’). In our story, Jesus is at a banquet and tells a “parable” about the meal setting, which is followed up by another story about another banquet. He can’t get enough of what happens at meals.
On another note, it should not be surprising that Jesus shares a meal with some of the Pharisees. Once we remove the negative impressions we have of this formidable group and recognize their influence on many people during the first century, we should not be surprised by this encounter. Just a few verses earlier some Pharisees actually assisted Jesus by informing him of Herod’s plans to locate Jesus (cf. 13:31). This suggests a more neutral relationship between “the Pharisees” and Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.
By chapter 14, Luke has established a pattern of Jesus’ freer activity on the Sabbath. These Pharisees, not surprisingly, are “watching him closely” (14:1); perhaps it is due to what they have heard about Jesus’ Sabbath practices earlier. Whenever this verb is used — “watching” — the religious leaders do not do this simply out of curiosity.
They are trying to trap Jesus, either in some activity like healing on the Sabbath or something inappropriate he might say. But, here, after Jesus heals someone on the Sabbath, there is no little to no reaction to Jesus’ activity. Luke wishes to draw our attention elsewhere in this short story. He would like us to think about “meals” in first century life.
In the Gospel of Luke, meals, in particular, provide central settings for Jesus’ mission. And, the language of food, in general, serves as a basis for Jesus’ teaching. (cf. Luke 11:5-6
Jesus said to his disciples, “Suppose one of you has a friend. Suppose you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine on a trip has dropped in on me, and I don’t have anything to serve him.’
Eating is a sign of life (Luke 8:52-55
Everyone was crying and showing how sad they were. Jesus said, “Don’t cry! She’s not dead. She’s just sleeping.” They laughed at him because they knew she was dead. But Jesus took her hand and called out, “Child, get up!” She came back to life and got up at once. He ordered her parents to give her something to eat.) 17:27-28; 24:43) and celebration (Luke 15:23
Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let’s celebrate with a feast.). But it also symbolizes the harsh realities for the enslaved (Luke 17:7-9
“Suppose someone has a servant who is plowing fields or watching sheep. Does he tell his servant when he comes from the field, ‘Have something to eat’? No. Instead, he tells his servant, ‘Get dinner ready for me! After you serve me my dinner, you can eat yours.’ He doesn’t thank the servant for following orders.). Food has religious connotations as well (cf. 6:1-4; 7:33; 14:15; 22:14-20); Jesus “blessed” it (Luke 9:16
Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and blessed the food. He broke the loaves apart and kept giving them to the disciples to give to the crowd.30) and prayed for it daily (Luke 11:3
Give us our bread day by day.)
Even though Jesus shared several meals with Pharisees (cf. 7:36), they often complained about his choice of (other) table-fellowship companions (sinners) and about how his associates secured food on the Sabbath (picking grain as they walked through a field) Unlike his possible mentor (John the Baptist), Jesus loved food and his disciples followed suit. Just as he expects to care for the physical needs of others, he expects that others will provide for his disciples when they minister among them.
Indeed, he assumes that friends will share it, which is a natural outgrowth of first-century Jewish culture. Theologically, he believes that God will provide for the basics of life, so he teaches and acts accordingly.
In Luke 14, Jesus is less interested in the actual food than in the composition of the banquet. So, he tells a story about meals and honor. It’s an unusual “parable” in light of its clear references. His story emphasizes two components of the banquet setting: (1) the selection of “seats” (honor?); and, (2) the invitation list. In an honor and shame culture, avoiding shame is of the utmost importance. This is not simply embarrassment. Public shame may have tangible implications for the shamed. A family’s bartering practices or marriage proposals can be negatively affected by a public shaming, if the shame is significant enough.
On the opposite end, public honor — determined, in this story, by the host — may come to those who express public humility. Jesus expresses expectations for hosts. His words are a challenge to the honor system embedded in first-century culture. To secure one’s place in this system, it was appropriate to invite friends, family, and rich neighbors. Reciprocal requests would ensue, as the public acknowledgement of an honorable person may bring its own rewards.
But Jesus calls into question this type of caste system, imagining instead hosts who choose to associate with people who are “poor, crippled, lame, and blind” as their new network. The problem for hosts, however, as Jesus explicitly recognizes, is that no honor is forthcoming in return. Rather, it’s an investment in the future.
“One does not live by bread alone,” as Jesus argues in the temptation scene when he was tempted by the devil for 40 days. During those days Jesus ate nothing, so when they were over, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “Scripture says, ‘A person cannot live on bread alone.‘”
Nor is Jesus only concerned about what happens at meals. His teaching is about the way we treat others, especially those among us who unable to “pay us back.” In a modern democratic society in which public political rhetoric emphasizes that all are (created) equal, it is easy to miss the emphasis of Jesus’ teaching in his own status-oriented, honor-shame and hierarchical space.
Yet, we have our ways of distinguishing one from another, in order to structure our contemporary world. Oftentimes, these distinctions among us hinder us from true fellowship with one another. Jesus’ story is a reminder to us about the company we keep.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
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©2019 Thomas E Williams with the exception of quoted made material
Originally preached September 01, 2019