Luke 14:1, 7-14
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to share a meal in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely.
7 When Jesus noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a parable. 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding celebration, don’t take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than you could have been invited by your host.9 The host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give your seat to this other person.’ Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the least important place. 10 Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
12 Then Jesus said to the person who had invited him, “When you host a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. 13 Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. 14 And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.”
Where did your family gather? In my family it was the kitchen table. The meal was important and enjoyable, but the best was the conversation. We would often find ourselves sitting for an hour or so after dinner just talking. With guests in the house that could easily stretch to three hours.
The “table” in biblical times was a very important setting. The “Table” was a place that defined a people. Table fellowship and Sabbath observance were identification marks for a community struggling to maintain identity among many foreign and some hostile influences. Who was at the table and what you ate were of paramount importance in Jesus day. Think about some of the clashes between Jesus and the Jewish officials. Jesus was criticized for “eating with sinners.” Now think about the “table” after Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. It was at the “table” that Jesus was revealed to the disciples he had been walking with on the way to Emmaus. The test in Luke says, “After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” (Lk 24:30) It was then that he was revealed to them and they recognized him.
In Luke 14 we find Jesus at table again. The setting for Luke 14:1-24 involves pulling four somewhat unrelated stories together, and the thread that draws them together is that they are around the table. 14:7 says Jesus was in the “home of one of the leading Pharisee” having a meal. The first story is about healing on the Sabbath. Stories two and three are in our passage, and speak about meals that are offered to community. This is not just about the etiquette of entertaining. The seating arrangement of next Saturday’s dinner party is not the point. This is truly “Kingdom talk.” The clues are in verse 7 where the passage is introduced as a “parable.” When Jesus tells a parable he is trying to get across a deeper meaning. Verse 11 then completes that parable in a typical parable ending – the lesson of the parable. “All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.” In Luke 18:14 this same sentence is quoted word for word. This lesson is surrounding a Pharisee and a tax collector, both standing at the altar in the temple – the “table.” The Pharisee thanks God that he is not like the tax collector, touting his own “righteousness” at following the Law. But the tax collector, not even lifting his eyes to heaven, is asking for mercy on himself, a sinner. You can see that this is a direct application of the story here in Luke 14.
So, of the two stories in our passage this morning, verses 7-11 are instructions for us as guests, and verses 12-14 are instructions to us as hosts.
As guests, we are invited to the Table of the Lord. We are invited to share in the sacred meal with Jesus and all those who join at table. How do we come to that table? Do we come reluctantly, as though we have better things to do? Or is it because we don’t feel worthy to meet Jesus at the table? Do we come with a ho-hum kind of attitude. ‘We’ve been here so many times before that it has become routine.’ Or, as in the story, do we come feeling entitled? In the Communion Ritual there is a place where it says, “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. Therefore let us confess out sin before God and one another.“ It goes on to a unison confession. “Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us we pray. Free us for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Finally, we are given an affirmation of our pardon in Jesus Christ. At the table of the Lord it is not about status, but being welcomed. The Master of the table, the banquet, welcomes us just as we are. Do you remember the story of Zacchaeus? This tax collector finds out that Jesus is coming by, and in his humble manner he just wants to see Jesus. He climbs a tree to get a look, since he is very short. This story ended at table with Jesus, a personal encounter with Jesus. Zacchaeus was transformed.
In the Kingdom Of God we come recognizing our unworthiness and God’s majesty. This is true humility, not a humble act to gain position. In the parable, we are not encouraged to humble ourselves so that Jesus will exalt us. We don’t take a low position in order to have Jesus elevate us. We just come humble.
Thomas Hardy was a famous poet and novelist around turn of last century. At his height he could command great sums of money for someone to publish his work. Yet, with all that fame and success he always included a stamped, self-addressed envelope when he submitted a piece for publication just in case it was rejected. Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to approach the table of the Lord?
The next story in our passage relates to our role as hosts. Once again, in Jesus time hosting was often a power play, a way of putting people in your debt. You would invite someone to dinner expecting a return invite. And if I served prime rib, I would expect that you would try to outdo my hospitality by serving filet mignon. It was hospitality with strings attached. Jesus is addressing who we invite to the table. In essence he is asking us to invite those who need to be at table. The list in verse 13 says, “invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.” This list is reminiscent of the tone in Mary’s song – the Magnificat – in Luke 1:46-55. God “has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” And again, in Jesus’ inaugural sermon in his own hometown, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed.” (Lk. 4:18). Remembering the style of the parable, these lists are not only indicating those financially poor or literal prisoners in jail, but those of us who are living lives that are struggling. This implication is that we need to be inviting those who need to be accepted. And we invite them, not so we may be accepted in return, but so they may meet Jesus at the table.
God accepts us at the table, welcomes us, and blesses us. God counts us among the multitudes that gather in His name. We gather at the table to feast on what the Lord provides. Grace. Healing. Hope. Fellowship. Wholeness. We gather with all God’s children and feast together.
Pastor Paul Grossman