In this account told by Luke, Jesus had been invited to the house of a prominent Pharisee for dinner, along with other guests who appear to be other Pharisees and experts in the law. (prominent people). Throughout the gospels, the Pharisees were mostly opposed to Jesus being their long awaited Messiah, (there were some exceptions), and did not take a liking to how Jesus exposed their religious hypocrisy.
Why was Jesus invited? The motive seems unclear – though I have an inkling that I do know! Was it perhaps to trick Jesus into being in the company of these ‘experts’ so that they could question him and trap him like they had tried before? Or perhaps the host wanted to impress his guests by having Jesus there? Or perhaps this Pharisee simply enjoyed Jesus’ company and had no other ulterior motive? Whatever the motive, I think Jesus thought that if he was going to spend dinner with these religious leaders, he was going to make it worthwhile! Jesus observes their behaviour, and exposes what was in their hearts in four massive teachings!
Allow me to use some artistic license..Lets imagine the scene:
The guests arrive. The servants are bustling around in the kitchen. The dinner party is underway.
Jesus sees a man with a swelling on his body, and in full view of the guests, heals him and sends him on his way. The guests are stunned and don’t say a word. (they would have had a problem with Jesus healing, or ‘working’ on the sabbath as they thought. When Jesus points out that a child or an ox would be pulled out of a pit by them on the sabbath, they remain silent. The true value of a human being was being tested right there – and Jesus had just marked their exam paper ‘FAIL’.
The excitable party mood – background music, wafting smells of dinner from the kitchen and guests chatter – has been somewhat dampened. Perhaps the food will re ignite the party – the guests are invited to take their places at the dinner table.
Jesus notices how they start to sit down at the table for dinner, with the prominent places at the table being chosen first. Noticing their pride and ego, Jesus teaches the guests that rather than choose the most prominent places at the table to sit, they should choose the lowest places, for those who humble themselves will be exalted, but those who exalt themselves will be humbled. I wonder if that caused any ‘musical chairs’ among them? Or perhaps they stared insolently at Jesus, and promptly sat down at their chosen seat regardless? The host may have been thinking at this point that Jesus was ruining the party.
Starters are served. Conversation has been reduced to lowered murmurs and darting glances around the table.
Then, once more, Jesus gives a teaching. But this time it is not directed to the guests; rather, he turns to the host and says (paraphrase): “When you give a dinner or luncheon, don’t invite those who can repay you, (the prominent, family members, rich neighbours) but rather invite those who cannot repay you (the lame, the blind, the poor, the weak) because those who do will be truly blessed.
Perhaps then the host’s heart sank, and any false or wrong motives for this dinner party were now truly exposed.
How easily we can fall into this same trap friends! It is just as James wrote in his letter – he warned about showing favouritism to the rich man and showing him to the best seat, yet disregarding the poor man. It is a disgusting sin which is rampant in the church today I feel. In our desire to build huge buildings and raise money for projects, in our quests to build ‘our thing’ we are so easily tempted into ‘buttering up’ the ones with the cash! Our motives! Our motives!! Why we do what we do – the answer to that question will so often expose us! We must not fall into that same wicked error.
Main Course is brought to the table. Never mind the roast lamb – you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.
One of the guests appears to overhear this conversation between Jesus and the host, and tells Jesus (paraphrase):
“Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God!”
I can almost imagine him saying this with fistfuls of food in his mouth, and oblivious to the tension developing around the table. What the man says is right, but I can’t help but feel that he was slightly missing the point that Jesus was making. Jesus had been teaching about being humble, and opening your heart and your home to the least, the poor, the despised and the lowly – and this man seems to have defaulted to a grand statement about eating at a feast in the kingdom of God. I sometimes wonder if we are guilty of the same – do we ‘over spiritualise’ scripture at times? Do we use prayer as a form of defending ourselves from simply doing what God has asked us to do? For example, Jesus spoke clearly that we should visit those in prison and bring God’s love there. But how easy it would be to stay comfortable in our church seats and say “Well, we won’t go, but we’ll pray for those who will visit those in prison”. And I think that this man was doing something similar. Jesus had been talking about how important it is to bless people who cannot repay you. But this man seems to have ‘over spiritualised’ what Jesus said, and envisions a big feast one day in heaven. Granted, he was right to look forward to that day, but what about those living in poverty around him who could hardly imagine where their next meal would come from, never mind the great feast at the end of the age!
The second thing about this mans statement, I feel, is that he speaks about the great feast almost in presumption that he will be there. And the truth is, most of the guests around that table probably felt the same. So Jesus feels then that he needs to tell them all a story.
In the story (or ‘parable’), many guests were invited to a dinner party, but when the time came, they all made excuses. The servants were then told to go and invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, the blind instead, and even to go further into the country places and roads to fill the seats at the banquet table.
Jesus could have simply agreed to the mans statement – after all, what he said was true wasn’t it? The man who eats at the feast in the kingdom of God is blessed! But Jesus was making the point that many who we may assume will be at the feast (the seemingly likely, the prominent, the ‘obvious’, the religious) will reject the kingdom invitation and not be at the feast, while many others – the despised, lowly and rejected – will accept the invitation and be at the feast! I wonder if at that point the man slowed down his chewing, put down his knife and fork, and thought a little more deeply about whether he would be at that feast himself. A heart searching moment, if ever there was one.
Pudding is served. It might as well be cold turnip the way this dinner party is turning out.
Perhaps the dinner party ended promptly after pudding. Or perhaps Jesus was asked to leave early. Or perhaps the evening played itself out, the guests finally leaving and the host kicking himself for having invited Jesus, promising to never invite him again. Or perhaps the host and his guests humbled themselves, accepted Jesus’ teaching and were changed?
Whatever happened after that evening, they all surely would have thought twice about who they would invite to their dinner party, and with what motives in mind! And that the ones who will be around God’s table for that great feast one day will be those who knew that they could never repay God for his goodness, mercy and grace!