This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on August 28, 2016.
This passage begins with Jesus going to the home of the leader of a synagogue for a Sabbath meal. Luke provides no fanfare in his introduction of this story, but the setting for this narrative would have been striking to the gospel’s first audience. The Gospels are filled with confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees. They also offer stories of Jesus having dinner with tax collectors and sinners. However, Luke alone tells stories of Jesus eating with Pharisees. In Chapter 7, Luke recounts Jesus’ eating with a Pharisee when the unexpected and the scandalous occurred. A sinful woman came in and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with perfume (7:36-50). Now in Chapter 14, one finds Jesus at the table of another Pharisee. This setting should forewarn the audience that they should be prepared for either a significant event or a significant word from Jesus.
The lectionary text omits verses 2 through 6. This omission is unfortunate as it aids in understanding the selected text’s context. In these verses Jesus heal a man with “abnormal swelling of his body” (v. 2). Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath is a reoccurring issue between Jesus and the Pharisees. One sees this tension played out in Chapter 13 when Jesus heals the bent and broken woman on the Sabbath within the synagogue walls. Jesus uses a similar explanation to validate healing on the Sabbath in both chapters. Jesus’ choice to heal on the Sabbath in front of the Pharisees and within the home of a Pharisee would have created tension in the room. In this context Jesus speaks both to the dinner guests and the meal’s host.
According to verse 7, Jesus watches the guests choose their place around the table, and based on what he observes, Jesus tells them a parable different from most in the Gospels. It is not a parabolic story. Instead, it is instruction that speaks on a dual level – the cultural and the divine.
In a scene reminiscent of a sixth-grade gym class trying to line everyone up by height, Jesus sees guests jockeying for position at the table based on the era’s cultural and religious hierarchy. One’s place at the table indicated both social and relational standing with the dinner host. Jesus’ instruction on the cultural level reflects wisdom on how a guest might avoid embarrassment if he chose a table position higher than the host would have anticipated. Rather than risk being asked to move out of a seat if a guest of higher rank arrived, he chose a lower seat so that the host might invite the guest to move up to a more honored position. A choice for humility might not only avoid embarrassment, but provide an opportunity for blessing.
When one places this instruction in the context of the Sabbath healing, it becomes clear that Jesus was offering more than table instructions. The table of which Jesus speaks is not the one where he dines, but instead represents the Kingdom table. The Pharisees were sure of their place at the table. Their self-declared righteousness and devotion to the letter of the law led them to believe they held a valued place in God’s work on earth. They would have presumed a superior position to the bent and broken woman and the man with swollen body. healing of this son and “daughter of Abraham” on the Sabbath, while affirming the watering of beasts of burden on the same day (13:16). The Pharisees believed they had the spiritual truth required to determine who could sit at the table. However, Jesus’ table instructions spoke to the spiritual reality that both the Sabbath and the Kingdom table belonged to God, and that God would determine who was to be honored and blessed and who might be compelled to claim a place of humility. Jesus echoes this message clearly before he leaves the table: Jesus tells them, “Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last” (v. 30). This call to choose a path of deliberate humility would have resonated in the early Church where the table would have been composed of those representing a diversity of cultural classes and social positions. This call to deliberate humility is also an important concept for the contemporary Christian congregation.
In verse 12, Jesus turns his attention to the host. Here Jesus gives instruction on who should be invited to the banquet table. Jesus instructs the host, that rather than invite those who have the capacity to reciprocate the host’s generosity, the host should instead invite those who can provide nothing in return. Jesus instructs the host to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind so they will be blessed. It is an interesting list because it carefully parallels how Jesus defined his ministry when queried by the John the Baptist’s messengers. Jesus tells them, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (7:22-23). On the cultural level, Jesus is instructing the host to embrace generosity with reciprocity; on a deeper level, Jesus is inviting the host to emulate his ministry for those rejected by culture, but embraced by God. This invitation too, is a good work for the contemporary Christian congregation where attention is too often given to reaching people “like us” so the church can grow and thrive, rather than modeling Christ’s ministry, which invites us into cultural margins in God’s name.
First Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee
Tags: humility, healing on the Sabbath, parable, meal, table, generosity