By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
September 1, 2019
Luke 14:1, 7–14 (ESV)
One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in 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 table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
There is always something cryptic about scripture, something that seems to take us by surprise. Like last week, Jesus heals a woman at the synagogue on the Sabbath. At first glance it might be just one of many miracles Jesus performed, but there was more to it. The synagogue ruler, or minister, was irate. We were told that he was so upset because that woman came to the synagogue on the Sabbath to be healed. Six days you can work come on those days, he yelled. But I posed the idea that maybe the reason he was irate was because Jesus brought a woman into a place where women were not allowed. Jesus challenged their traditions and customs.
Often when we approach scripture we bring our own lives with it. This is not always a bad thing, because scripture is here for God to use. It is hear to direct our minds and our spirits to a place where we can hear the voice of God to us at a moment. At one moment we might be reading the words of Jesus as he spoke on the mount, and in that moment we are worried about the test we are about to take in school, or we are struggling to find a solution to a technical problem at work, maybe we are trying to find a job and have filled out countless applications and not a single place has called us back. We read the verses and the words come alive in our mind. It is as if Jesus was speaking directly to you, and He is. In a moment the weight of the world drops off of our shoulders and we have new life and strength to approach that difficult life situation we are facing. We might even underline the verse, or write a note in the margin of our bible (which is hard to do as we all go digital) and then later we read the passage again and we see the line, and we look at the words again. Those words once gave us life, but now our situation has changed and we do not even know why we would have underlined something so obscure. I know why I underline obscure things, because they are strange and make me laugh. Like the life giving words from Jesus found in Matthew 15, verse 16, “Are you still so dull? Jesus asked them.” I think someone should write a book some time about the 16th verse of every chapter they are often good.
You don’t believe me do you, well last week we read Luke 13:16, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” The reason the synagogue ruler was upset was not about the healing but because of where the healing of that particular person happened. In today’s passage we see Jesus again on a Sabbath day, and this time he is at the home of a synagogue ruler. We began with verse 1 and then skipped over five verses. These verses included the healing of a man on the sabbath, but this instance the ruler was not irate, but silent. It is interesting. One healing drove them mad and the other they were silent. Eventually the healing of individuals did become the topic of ire when it came to the religious leaders and Jesus, but this became the rally because it was one instance where they could claim that Jesus disregarded the Law of Moses. The reason they were upset had nothing to do with the Sabbath but because he challenged their traditions.
This brings us to today’s parable. Jesus is sitting at the table of this respected synagogue ruler, he had just healed a man on the Sabbath and the room is silent. He looks around the room. He sees the people that were invited and he notices where they sitting. He remembered how these individuals were acting as they were beginning to gather. They were pushing their way to the front, trying to attract the attention of their host and positioning themselves in the honored locations. The people present at this gathering remind me of Mrs. Bucket (Bouquet) from the BBC’s Keeping Up Appearances. Trying to do everything they can to make sure the right people notice, to the point they treat their own relatives as strangers.
Jesus then begins to speak, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in 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 table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I want us to really consider this passage for a moment. This happens all too often in society. We all do it. When someone important is in the room, or someone we perceive as important we want to be close. That is why so many people want autographs of celebrities. This is why people buy tickets to sit close to the stage of a concert or a speech. This is why Presidential candidates shake hands with people, and seek endorsements from those within a community they wish to gain favor in. The closer we can get ourselves to those we perceive as important the greater our importance seems to be. And the converse is true as well, right now the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana is running for president and a few years ago a former governor of Alaska ran for vice president, both of which face the question of who do they think they are to seek such a position. I know they had and have to face those questions because I myself ask them.
Jesus is challenging social norms again. Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest Russian authors, once said, “A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he things of himself. The larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.” In the kingdoms of men or the world, we operate in networks of influence. The more people you know the better chances you have for advancement. There are entire social media formats that attempt to link you to as many people in business so that you can have better networking status. There is nothing wrong with this necessarily, I myself have benefited from knowing someone in a position and having that person recommend me to fill a job. I have talked with people on the phone and have written letters to recommend people for positions. This thought process becomes sinful when we only use that influence for advancement. When the reality of who we are and what we can do is less than what we think or try to convince people of.
Jesus is looking at this social circus and I often think he is laughing to himself, because he knows the reality before him. Everyone is running around trying to convince others of their value, but what are they accomplishing? Jesus instead encourages those that are listening to let their lives do the talking.
When Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world he was revealing that what we value in the kingdoms of mankind are not what God values. God sees beyond the appearances we put forth and looks at the core of our being. When we value the things that God values we live our lives differently than the world around us. We give opportunities to those who others might not have considered because we see the potential within them. We invest our time and energy in them, encouraging them to try things they did not think they could. And walking with them through the struggles they might face. Not because they can do anything in particular for us personally but because they are individuals loved by God.
Jesus lived this out in his life. His disciples did not have the social prestige as others within the community. Of all the people mentioned in the Gospels, probably the most qualified person associated with Jesus was his cousin John the baptist. He was the son of a priest, and John was not one of the disciples. He was on the outside of that community looking in. He stood off to the side as Jesus walked and cried out behold the lamb of God. And when Jesus’s ministry began to take disciples from John, he simply said He must increase but I must decrease. The disciples were sons of fishermen, tax collectors, washed out zealots without a following, and sinners. Yet these common people with little social standing carried the ministry of a rural rabbi to the ends of the empire and changed the course of history.
The worldly system though, the systems of mankind are focused on something different. They chase after status and wealth, striving to get ahead and make a name. They strive because as they raise in that social ladder they gain power and influence. And as they gain this power and influence they can begin to use that name to manipulate the world around them to give them even greater power and influence. The kingdoms of men are based on lusts, greed, and envy. With very little regard for the mutual profit of the community as a whole. This leads to exploitation, hatred, and war. And the greater influence one build in the kingdoms of men the greater pressure feel and force they exude to maintain it.
The synagogue ruler last week had a position of power and influence. He gained that position working within a system and to maintain that position nothing could change. His ideas would have to be maintained or he would lose standing within the community. Jesus comes, to teach well that is fine because he has influence and even if he may not agree having an influential figure speak maintains this ruler’s position. But Jesus calls a woman into the sanctuary. Suddenly everything changes. Someone is in a place where they were previously not allowed, if this is allowed to stand how will this ruler and those like him maintain their social standing.
Which leads to the second part of Jesus’s teaching. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
More cryptic words. I mean really. If you do not invite your relatives to your wedding that is your own choice one that I probably would not advise, but I am just a man not God. But there is something in this passage that is striking. Weddings in America are not at all like they were in ancient Israel. Weddings during Jesus’s life were major events that could take a week to fully celebrate. They were not simply the joining of two people together out of love, but they were the union of families. Uniting businesses, lands, influence, and everything else. In America we do not understand this type of concept at least in the middle and lower classes of society. But do you remember the great media attention of the marriage of the Princes of England. How many of us received invitations to those weddings? I am guessing and this is only a guess, but none of us were invited. We were not invited because our status means nothing to them. Nothing we say or do will give the monarchy of England more or less power or influence. But there were many that coveted invitations to that event, because attendance would have changed the course of their lives.
Jesus in this passage is really telling us to reject our families, but instead he is encouraging us to use what we have to improve the lives of those around us. Jesus focused his attention on those that society marginalized. He took time to teach the fishermen. He allowed a woman to sit at his feet while he taught. He ushered the lepers back into the society that once forced them into exile. Jesus gave those without, hope. He gave this hope because all human life is a reflection of God’s image and because it is a reflection of the image of God it has great value. How can we say one person is greater than another if both reflect God’s image in some manner?
Jesus challenges us today to look at where our focus is. Are we keeping up appearances among mankind or are we carriers of hope? Are we fractional facades or an authentic whole? Do we reject others because they threaten our perception of status or do we encourage the best out of all within our community? In so many ways the challenges that Jesus presented to those ancients is very alive today. We still struggle with similar issues but by his grace we have made progress. And as we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends let us join together and pray that His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.