The Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14 – Pentecost 12 The Way Up With God Is Down

"Feast of Simon the Phrarisee" – Peter Paul Rubens (1618-1620)

I love David Lose’s comment on this passage -“If there was ever a gospel reading that invited a polite yawn, this might be it. I mean, goodness, but Jesus comes off in this scene as a sort of a progressive Miss Manners.” He later backs off of it.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. And so this, and all reported encounters with religious authorities, are going to clarify and sharpen the division between Jesus’ vision of right now, right here, being the time and the place for the realization of God’s Kingdom, and the authorities’ anxiety to keep social peace as defined and enforced by the Roman occupiers.

He is invited to dinner by the big cheese – “house of a leader of the Pharisees”. Jesus does not seem to be invited for the hospitality of it, but for the hostility of it. The setting seems hostile. Sabbath controversy stories in chapters 6 and 13 had both ended with pharisees on the defensive (6:7; 13:17). Chapter 11 had ended with the pharisees "lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say." (11:54).

Thus Jesus is not being watched closely to see what they might learn from him. He is being watched closely to assess just how much of a threat he really might be. He is being tested outside of the admiring crowds. Jesus is watching them very closely in order to make observations about human conduct. He wanted to contrast their kingdom of ritual with the kingdom of God emphasizing mercy and radical inclusion.

The word pharisee can mean "to separate". The Pharisees were a group of people who separated themselves from the riffraff of society. They sought to live holy and pure lives, keeping all of the written and oral Jewish laws. Often in the gospels, Pharisees are pictured as being holier-than-thou types, the religious elite. They felt that they had earned the right to sit at the table with God. They criticize Jesus because he doesn’t separate himself from the "sinners and tax collectors."

The Gospel is sandwiched between two other situations. Just before the Gospel Jesus heals a man with dropsy and defended that Sabbath healing. He may have been the bait

There are two main scenes here with advice

1. Going to banquet sit at the lowest place so you can move up rather than forced down

In Israel, the meal table played a very important role, not only in the family, but in society as well. When an Israelite provided a meal for a guest, even a stranger, it assured him not only of the host’s hospitality, but of his protection Also in Israel (as elsewhere), the meal table was closely tied to one’s social standing. “Pecking order” was reflected in the position one held at the table

Jesus knows that most people would want to take the place of honor. What is interesting is that those who put themselves forward to take the highest or most dignified place might be removed not to the second place but to the lowest place.

And, Jesus takes pains to show that this "demotion" is really an experience of humiliation. Rather than seeking to put ourselves forward, we are to wait until we are invited up to the honored position.

When the guests jockeyed for position at the table, Jesus spoke to this evil as well (vv. 7-11). While they believed that “getting ahead” socially required self-assertion and status-seeking, Jesus told them that the way to get ahead was to take the place of less honor and status. Status was gained by giving it up. One is exalted by humbling himself, Jesus said.

Note that Jesus is not criticizing the system but how people operate within it.

His exhortation is to pursue humility, a concept with significant status connotations. Humility was very rarely considered a virtue in Greco-Roman moral discourse.

Humility doesn’t mean being passive. Letting others walk all over us Jesus shows by his life that being humble didn’t mean being passive, but, when necessary, it meant taking out the whip and driving the self-centered bullies out of the temple. 

There is a balance between being humble without self-degradation or shame of letting others "walk all over" us vs. deliberately putting ourselves above others through self-exaltation or arrogance.

Exaltation depends too if you are doing the exalting or God raising up and exaltation belong to God; recognition of one’s lowliness is the proper stance for human beings. The act of humbling oneself is not something for its own sake, but for the sake either of God or of Christ .Jesus advises a strategy of deliberately and consciously living beneath one’s presumed status in order to receive even greater honoring later.

Some scholars speculate that this teaching would particularly apply to Luke and his first readers as they were higher status Gentiles, and the mixed-status Christian communities would require them to live beneath their comfort zone. God would later recognize and honor their accepting of lower social standing.

Here is a paradox indeed. The way up is down. To try to “work up” is to risk being “put down.” Those who wish to be honored must be humble and seek the lowly place. Those who strive to attain the place of honor will be humiliated

2. If you are the host, don’t invite who can in turn invite you and be repaid but invite “ the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” and be repaid by God

Shift in emphasis here. Now Jesus is not working within the system but challenging it.

The host had apparently invited all the prominent people to his table on this occasion.

Jesus assumes that you are putting on the feast, rather than attending a marriage banquet, and that you have to put together your guest list. Guest lists are put together based on a philosophy or on some kind of principle. Two popular ways to do it are because you "owe" someone who has invited you to their event or you want to "get in good" with some people and so you extend an invitation to them 

First century middle-eastern dinner parties were political, social, and class affairs. One would invite those considered one’s social equals or superiors. Accepting an invitation to a such a dinner carried with it the expectation that the one invited would return the favor.

Obviously, in the unlikely event they would get an invite, poor people would not accept since they would not be able to repay.

The central principle of this advice is that we are to give things to people without expecting any kind of return.

Jesus told him that while men might seem to get more in return from inviting their friends, family, and prominent people to a meal, in heaven’s currency men were rewarded by God when they invited those who could not give anything in return—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

Jesus calls for “kingdom behavior”: inviting those with neither property nor place in society. God is our ultimate host, and we, as hosts are really behaving as guests, making no claims, setting no conditions, expecting no return.

We are to do good to people regardless of their ability to repay. In fact, we might delight even more in extending ourselves to people if they can’t repay because, in this case, we will have a reward at the "resurrection of the righteous."

Notice here that the listing: the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind – reflect those listed in Jesus’ initial declaration for his ministry way back in Luke 4:18. Your "blessing" is the total removal of social rank in the reign of God. In God’s eyes, this is justice, and you will be rewarded at the "resurrection of the just."

Helping the needy is more than just sending money, but getting involved with the people — perhaps sitting down together with them as equals at a supper table.

What the "helpers" frequently discover is that Christ serves them through the needy. Jesus says we need to start inviting new people to dinner and it may challenge our comfort zones.

We are disciples on the road – disciple on the road with Jesus is to share with those who have nothing and who can give nothing in return.

Back to David Lose on inviting the “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind”:

“And while that sounds at first blush like it ought to be good news, it throws us into radical dependence on God’s grace and God’s grace alone. We can’t stand, that is, on our accomplishments, or our wealth, or positive attributes, or good looks, or strengths, or IQ, or our movement up or down the reigning pecking order. There is, suddenly, nothing we can do to establish ourselves before God and the world except rely upon God’s desire to be in relationship with us and with all people. Which means that we have no claim on God; rather, we have been claimed by God and invited to love others as we’ve been loved.

“As we see in today’s reading, precisely because we have been invited into relationship by God — because, that is, God has conferred upon us freely a dignity and worth we could never secure for ourselves — we are free to do the same for others. We are free to put them before ourselves, to lead them to seats of honor, to invite them to be our dinner guests, not because of what they can do for us, but because of what has already been done for all of us.

“It’s a new humanity Jesus is establishing, a new humanity that has no place for our insecurities and craving for order. Which is why it’s frightening and why those invested in the pecking order — which, of course, includes all of us — will put him to death.&qu

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