September 16, 2018 | “Banquets, Invitations, and Insistent Hosts” • Luke 14.15-24

“Banquet” by clement127 • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Scripture Reading • Luke 14.15-24 (NIV)

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

 

There is a lot happening in Jesus’ short story about a great banquet … When we are able to spend some time with this parable, we can see that it is an intensely hopeful and intensely challenging invitation to discipleship, and a picture of what lives shaped by God’s grace can look like.

This parable is part of a bigger picture, a scene that starts at the beginning of chapter 14.

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law,“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

So, Jesus is at an antagonistic Sabbath meal at a prominent Pharisee’s house.

Not really all that fun.

Pharisees, were religious leaders who were committed to accurately understanding and applying scripture … Pharisees constantly questioned and criticized Jesus … especially when they noticed Jesus doing something they didn’t think revealed accurate understanding or application of scripture. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Pharisees are criticized for being more interested in outward appearances than inward substance; making rules that were burdensome, if not impossible for people to follow; and for being ‘lovers of money.’ Even though the Pharisees were so opposed to Jesus, Jesus continued to engage with them and offer his own observations, corrections, and even invitations of his own.

This sabbath meal was not a welcoming or friendly situation. It seems more like a trap or a set up. The Pharisees are carefully watching Jesus … but, Jesus is watching too.

As he watches, Jesus sees someone, the Pharisees don’t see.

There was a guy there who, Luke says, was suffering from “abnormal swelling of his body” … some translations say the guy had “dropsy.” It is surprising he was there … the pharisees were really concerned with things that were clean and unclean … they went to great lengths to avoid unclean things and people … it is hard to imagine they would have wanted someone who was sick … and probably unclean around a special meal. Maybe they were so intensely watching Jesus, they didn’t notice he was there. 

Jesus saw him though. 

I hadn’t noticed before, but it turns out this guy with dropsy could be a key to understanding this parable. Dropsy was a symptom of a bigger problem – possibly something like congestive heart failure or kidney disease. This guy’s body was probably retaining a lot of fluid. He may have had an unquenchable thirst too … a thirst that was hurting him. Back then, dropsy had negative connotations – some people believed dropsy was a sign of greed … an unquenchable thirst for money or material things … some of the things Luke’s Gospel criticizes about the Pharisees.

Even though the Pharisees were so antagonistic, even though Jesus challenged them on so much, Jesus continued to engage the Pharisees … what if the small detail of the man with dropsy at the banquet being healed points toward hope for the Pharisees, if Jesus could heal him, maybe they could be healed too?

At that meal, Jesus watched guests scrambling over each other for the best seats. He saw a host inviting people like himself, people who could return invitations … who could trade hospitality. He saw people manipulating relationships and situations for their advantage. 

Pliny the Younger, an ancient Roman, gives us a picture of what these ancient meals could be like, he wrote, 

“Some very elegant dishes were served up to himself and a few more of the company; while those which were placed before the rest were cheap and paltry. He had apportioned in small flagons three different sorts of wine; but you are not to suppose it was that the guests might take their choice: on the contrary, that they might not choose at all. One was for himself and me; the next for his friends of lower order (for you must know that he measures out his friendship according to the degrees of quality); and the third for his own freed-men and mine” (NIB v. vii p. 236). 

I can’t imagine a gathering like that. 

Could you picture a meal, where depending on what I thought my guest’s social status was and how much I thought I could benefit from them, I served some guests steak, some beef liver, and some tripe? 

Jesus was turning his culture’s understandings about hospitality, how to be a host and how to be a guest upside down.

It is a big deal that Jesus tells hosts that “when they give a banquet to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you.” The Essenes, the ancient Jewish community who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls barred any of these people from participating in their community wrote, 

And let no person smitten with any human impurity whatever enter the Assembly of God. And any person smitten with these impurities, unfit to occupy a place in the midst of the Congregation, and every person smitten in his flesh, paralyzed in his feet or hands, lame or blind or deaf, of dumb or smitten in his flesh with a blemish visible to the eye, or any aged person that totters or is unable to stand firm in the midst of the Congregation, let these persons not enter” (NIB v. vii pp. 237-238).

That is painful. 

The people Jesus says to include and make space for are the people who would have been the most overlooked … the most excluded.

Jesus was welcoming and making space for so many people. 

Faithfulness to Jesus means embracing a bigger, warmer, more including way of hospitality.

Reading this parable about the great banquet, I realized that I usually understand the host, who is so insistent there be people at his party no matter what, as the character who is symbolic of God. I bet many people see it that way too. But what, if that isn’t a very flattering picture of God? It seems like the host starts out shaped by his culture’s understanding of hospitality, is embarrassed by the people who snub him, and undergoes a drastic change, that doesn’t seem much like the God we meet in scripture and that Jesus reveals to us. Scripture teaches that God has always had a heart for the littlest, the least and the last (Just think of stories about Abraham, Moses, David.) God has always been about including those who are left out and hurting. 

What if the host in the story has more in common with the Pharisees Jesus was eating with?

What if this parable offers us an example of someone who takes Jesus’ teaching to heart and acts on it? What if the parable simply tells the story of a host who was firmly embedded in his culture who experiences a change of heart and gives himself to God’s will?

That more hopeful … more about change and growing angle to the parable catches me. 

It is amazing that as critical as the Pharisees were, as much as they antagonized Jesus, Jesus didn’t give up on them … what if in this parable Jesus is offering an invitation that extends even to the Pharisees?

It is intensely hopeful … and intensely challenging.

Jesus makes the claim that following him and yielding to God’s will means adopting a very different picture of hospitality. Jesus offers us a place in his community and invites us to make space for others. He challenges us with this picture of a church that is warm and welcoming to people who might be excluded everywhere else … maybe even welcoming people who we might see as threats and counting on God to do what God does best and heal broken and hard hearts.

SPCCBulletin09.16.2018

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