Thought for the day
Customs surrounding hospitality are deeply embedded in every culture. Normally, we pay little attention to this because we just act “normally.” When we change cultures, however, even simple things likes words and gestures of greeting are new, often different. Jesus, in his ministry, took on such deeply embedded, self-serving customs and reversed them in the light of the Gospel reversal of all values. Radical change is always resisted and even today his teaching is put in practice only by the few.
Compassionate God, at your table, all are welcome. As we enjoy your hospitality, help us to take it to heart, so that as we have received, so we may give.
Luke 14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
Luke 14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The reading is very challenging on at least two levels. The topic is some kind of contrast between those who feel they belong and those who actually get into the kingdom. The setting is quite hard especially in vv. 27-28. The other level of difficulty is ascertaining the traditions (plural) behind the text and trying to name their original settings within the ministry (it seems clear that the traditions gathered here were originally distinct sayings).
The traditions found here are dispersed in the other Gospels.
V. 22 = Luke only, because of the journey to Jerusalem theme.
V. 23 = Luke only, who often “provides” a questioner.
Vv. 24-26 = Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23 (Sermon on the Mount)
V. 28-29 = Matthew 8:11-12 (centurion’s servant)
V. 30 = Matthew 20:16; Mark 10:31
Kind of writing
Dining is a notable characteristic of Jesus’ ministry, a feature underlined in Luke’s Gospel (in this Gospel Jesus is shown eating about twice as frequently as in the other traditions). Breaking down religious taboos and ignoring social and religious barriers were ways of making the proclamation of the Kingdom of God clear and tangible. In particular, meals—always regarded as sacred and as an act of communion—were used by Jesus to show that God excludes no one.
For the sake of brevity, the lectionary omits vv. 2-6, but they are included in these notes for completeness’ sake.
Old Testament background
(i) The prohibition against work on the Sabbath is well known from various sources. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. (Exod 20:10); But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. (Deut 5:14)
(ii) The meals belong to the category of “prophetic gesture” found regularly in the Old Testament. A prophetic gesture is a brief action or drama, performed to draw attention and to make the message of the prophet tangible. This is a complete list: Hosea marries a prostitute - Hosea 1-3; Isaiah gives symbolic names to his children - Is 7:3; 8:14; Jeremiah: the almond tree and the pot – Jer 1:11-14; the waist cloth hidden by the Euphrates Jer 13:1-11; the potter - Jer 18:1-12: the jug - Jer 19: the figs - Jer 24: the yoke - Jer 27-28: buying the field - Jer 32; Ezekiel makes a model of Jerusalem - Ez 4:1-3: the rationed food - Ez 4:9-19: the hair - Ez 5; with the exile’s baggage - Ez 12:1-
New Testament foreground
(i) Eating as a problem: The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30) Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink. (Luke 5:33) For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:33–34) One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. (Luke 7:36–37) And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)
(ii) Eating as a symbol of the future kingdom: Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. (Luke 12:37) Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29) So that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:30)
Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:3–4)
Verse 1 A sinister tone is established at the outset on account of the Sabbath (Luke 4:16, 31; 6:1–2, 5–7, 9; 13:10, 14–16; 14:1, 3, 5; 23:54, 56).
Verse 2 Dropsy: the disease caused both fluid retention and thirst. It was read metaphorically for rich people because the more they have the more they want.
Verse 3 The challenge is the Sabbath, when work of all kinds was forbidden.
Verse 4 No words are spoken and yet defiance takes place.
Verse 5 The defence is based on actual practice, where common sense intervenes.
Verse 6 Silence again and the tension rises.
Verse 7 At the time, dining was highly ritualised and guests “rated” by position.
Verse 8 This parable is directed at the guests, to begin with. The opening thought sounds very practical, like something from the Book of Proverbs.
Verse 9 A humiliation may follow on presumptuousness.
Verse 10 This is against the culture – but the “carrot” is final honour.
Verse 11 A generalised statement, going very much against an “honour-shame” culture.
Verse 12 This parable is correspondingly directed at the host. Reciprocity is a firm dimension of relationships in an honour-shame system and here the roots of that system are challenged. “In case you would be repaid” is penetrating.
Verse 13 This reflects Jesus’ own practice of making no distinctions between persons. The poor (Luke 4:18; 6:20; 7:22; 14:13, 21; 16:20, 22; 18:22; 19:8; 21:2–3, especially Lazarus and the Widow’s mite); crippled (Luke 13:11; 14:13, 21; the woman bent double); lame (Luke 7:22; 14:13, 21); blind (Luke 4:18; 6:39; 7:21–22; 14:13, 21; 18:35; cf. the blind man at Jericho).
Verse 14 A kind of beatitude, with the features of reversal and future happiness.
Pointers for prayer
1. The first scene portrays a common dilemma—choosing between a received tradition and what is good in a particular situation. When have I been faced with such dilemmas and how did I respond?
2. Jesus consistently places the “good” above the rules, a challenging position for today’s church at a critical juncture. For example, the Catholic tradition of a celibate clergy can result in depriving communities of the Eucharist. Have I had similar experiences in my own sphere of influence?
3. Seeking respect and (metaphorically) my place at the table is a normal human desire. It can become deformed into the raw putting of myself first while ignoring others.
4. In a disturbing way, Jesus upturns the everyday view of social interaction and relationships. The radical call of the gospel can be very threatening and yet we know that this practical expression mirrors the inclusivity of Jesus’ own proclamation. Where do I feel such a radical call and how do I act?
God and judge of all, you show us that the way to your kingdom is through humility and service.
Keep us true to the path of justice and give us the reward promised to those who make a place for the rejected and the poor. Amen.