LUKE 14, 1. 7 – 14
1 On a Sabbath day Jesus had gone to share a meal in the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely.
2 Now there in front of him was a man with dropsy,
3 and Jesus addressed the lawyers and Pharisees with the words, ‘Is it against the law to cure someone on the Sabbath, or not?’
4 But they remained silent, so he took the man and cured him and sent him away.
5 Then he said to them, ‘Which of you here, if his son falls into a well, or his ox, will not pull him out on a Sabbath day without any hesitation?’
6 And to this they could find no answer.
7 He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this,
8 ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited,
9 and the person who invited you both may come and say, “Give up your place to this man.” And then, to your embarrassment, you will have to go and take the lowest place.
10 No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” Then, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured.
11 For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be raised up.’
12 Then he said to his host, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relations or rich neighbours, in case they invite you back and so repay you.
13 No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
14 then you will be blessed, for they have no means to repay you and so you will be repaid when the upright rise again.’
THE CONTEXT — JESUS AS GUEST
Luke narrates Jesus sharing a meal in the house of Pharisees a number of times (cf also 7, 36; 11, 37). The occasion in this passage was with a “leading Pharisee” and his guests. The seeming hospitality was hypocritically dishonourable. The host and guests “watched him closely” to see what Jesus would do to “a man with dropsy” on a Sabbath (14, 1 – 2; cf also 6, 7; 13, 7, 36; 10 – 17; 11, 37).
In the ancient world “dropsy” was used as a metaphor for greed and unbridled desire for honour. A person drinks to quench his thirst owing to what is today called edema only to thirst all the more. As analogy in the context dropsy signifies a person thirsting for honour and recognition, craving for more the more he or she acquires them.
THE PARABLE — GOD IN JESUS AS HOST
Luke the master storyteller in the verses not read readied the reader with the backdrop of a healing from dropsy (vv 2 – 6). From Jesus’ action he leads the reader to listen to Jesus’ words in the parable of the wedding feast aware of the honour and shame mentality dominant in the society.
The Pharisees considered themselves honourable custodians of the Torah and its detailed regulations on ritual purity. With their insatiable thirst for avarice and status they expected the best seats of honour at banquets.
With Jesus’ coming, the dawn of the new age has arrived. The moral order is turned upside down. There are new criteria on who and what God would honour at the end time. In the parable God as host of the wedding feast becomes the judge.
In the admonition which follows the parable (14, 12 -14) the super abundance of God’s generosity and gifts is highlighted. The guest list is also different. Fellow Jews who might be ritually unacceptable according to the purity rites of the Pharisees such as we read in Leviticus 21, 16 – 23 or in the scrolls of Qumran are to be included.
Contrary to cultural expectations of the endless cycle of reciprocity, the guests to God’s banquet include those who are poor, handicapped, and marginalised. These are people who cannot invite their would-be hosts in return. God’s messianic banquet welcomes all (cf Matthew 22, 2 – 10; Luke 14, 16 – 24), anticipated by foreign nations congregating on the holy mountain of Jerusalem (Isaiah 25, 6) and all those benefitting from a new covenant and mystical union with God especially the poor and those with no money (Isaiah 55, 1 – 4; cf Psalm 63, 5).
THE CHALLENGE: CHRIST’S DISCIPLES IN GOD’S UNIVERSAL SAVING PLAN
The wider context of this passage (vv 2 – 6) — excluded from the Sunday reading (?) — narrates Jesus healing “a man with dropsy.” As in other miracles done on a Sabbath Jesus proclaims that a humanitarian act of mercy has priority over ritual purity as advocated by the Pharisees.
Like the leading Pharisee and guests Christ’s disciples today are challenged in Jesus’ parable with God’s open invitation to the heavenly banquet. On accepting God’s invitation followers of Christ cannot lay claim based on our merits and need on earth to be inclusive in welcoming all other guests God accepts to his reign. They are also not to expect being reciprocated in return for their hospitality, until the day of resurrection.
Reginald H Fuller and Daniel Westberg, Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today, Rev Ed. Liturgical Press 1984.
Sylvia C Keesmaat, “Strange Neighbors and Risky Care.” In The Challenge of Jesus’ Parables. Richard N Longenecker ed. Eerdmans 2000.
Bruce J Malina & Richard L Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels 2nd Ed. Fortress Press 2003.
The New Jerusalem Bible. Doubleday & Company 1985.
Mikeal C Parsons, Luke. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament, 2015.
Here at this Table
Janét Sullivan Whitaker
All are Welcome
Tune: TWO OAKS
PRESENTATION & PREPARATION OF GIFTS
Seed, Scattered and Sown
Tune: SEED SCATTERED
Bread for the World
Transfigure Us, O Lord
In this Place
Trevor Thomson and Victoria Thomson
Blest are They
We live amidst some glaring times-signs:
- an unimaginable disparity of wealth on earth with an attendant dropsical thirst for avarice and honour, and
- an exclusive or elitist mentality leading to fundamentalist extremisms despite Teilhardian trends towards cosmic consciousness and noogenesis, as evident for instance in electronic media.
In Luke Jesus healed a man with dropsy then told the parable of places of honour at a wedding as an open-ended invitation to the Pharisees and guests, and ourselves, to a possible conversion from our dropsical thirst for avarice, power, honour, and status.
In a surprising reversal of religious purity and cultural mores, Jesus subverts what the leading religious leaders expected by speaking of the inclusive guest list God has for this banquet at the end time.
Having turned away from our own concerns of honour and status, can we accept those whom God welcomes in his universal plan of salvation?
This Sunday’s parable could well provide a Lukan year-long focus for personal and communal conversion.
Before God as host of the banquet of the eschaton, how are we to:
- open ourselves to be healed of our thirsts for things not from God,
- humble ourselves, not counting on our own worth and achievements to merit places of honour, and
- continually review who we might be excluding as “meal companions” or sharers of material abundance in our families, eucharists in communities and parish, and society?