By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 28, 2022
Luke 14:1, 7-14 (ESV)
1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.
7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “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, 9 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. 10 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. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 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. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Last Sunday as we met together for worship, we joined the disciples as they remembered the last Sabbath Jesus went into a synagogue. I say it was his last time, we do not know this for certain, but we do know that this is the last time Luke mentions that Jesus was within one. We might not see this a being something significant but since meeting together with the community in worship was one of the three pillars of Jesus’s holy rhythm it is.
Jesus had irritated the religious elite to the point that he was no longer welcome. I want us to really consider that statement. Jesus, the visual incarnation of the invisible God, was no longer welcome within the space sanctified for worship. And he was no longer welcome because of the application of an interpretation of scripture. I want us all to really let that sink into our minds. In their desire to bring glory and honor to God, they actively opposed him, and we can also unknowingly fall into a similar situation. This should cause us to be careful when we are dealing with others. I am not claiming that anyone alive today is the God Incarnate, but we interact with people loved by Christ every moment of every day.
Today we meet Jesus again on a Sabbath. This time he is not in the Synagogue but instead is invited to the house of a ruler of the Pharisees for a meal. I will pause for a moment to discuss what it means to be a ruler of the Pharisees. We do not use this term today, but there are similarities in other social systems. A ruler of the synagogue or a Pharisee is most likely the senior member of the respective council, we might equate them with elders within a church or a member of the corporate board. In a synagogue this is usually a council of ten, but the ruler of the Pharisees may be a bit different. During the trial of Jesus, we are told about the Sanhedrin. Sanhedrin is a Greek term for council. According to my bible dictionary we are not exactly sure as to the makeup or nature of this council, only that it was the governing body or the liaison between the people of Judea and the Roman government.
Although the term is Greek in nature, there is a historic precedent for a council. During the Exodus, Moses’ father-in-law encouraged Moses to appoint elders from within each tribe to handle various disputes. After the Exile and resettlement of Palestine, because ten of the tribes were considered lost, it became necessary for the council or the Judges to take a different form. Some believe there may have been two councils, one that dealt with political concerns within the secular realms and the other that dealt with Religion. This is an interesting theory but since much of the lifestyle of Israel were not divided between sacred and secular aspects of life, it is more likely that there was one council and certain individuals within the council were regarded as experts in various fields.
We are unsure of how the members of this council were selected. All we really know is that the chief priest was the head of the body, and he most likely appointed people from the various rabbinical schools of thought that would serve in these roles.
The next thing that we should consider is that the religious understanding within the various schools of thought were not always the same. We know that there were Pharisees and Sadducees. But within these groups there were different schools of thought. We see this within the various questions that Jesus was asked, at times we are told that particular groups were bringing him into an argument, but at other times we are told that only scribes and teachers were present. This is most likely a discussion between two various understandings within one of the larger groups.
I know that this is getting a bit deep but there is a reason for it. These groups all had different teachings and interpretations of scripture. They varied almost as much as the various theological points with the Church today. Unity has always been a struggle within faith communities. This Sabbath Jesus was invited to the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. Jesus was invited to one of the most prestigious homes in all Roman Palestine. He was invited to the seminary president’s invitation only luncheon. And they did this for a reason, they wanted to watch him carefully.
He had made a great stir by healing on the Sabbath, and they wanted to make sure he was not continuing this trajectory. They watched him closely because if he continued to heal on the Sabbath, it would not be long before they would have to speak to the issue. If people are freed from bondage on the Sabbath, why would they oppose it? These leaders simply wanted people to not ask questions. The healing on the Sabbath, the restoration of dignity to the sons and daughters of Abraham that were held in bondage by a disabling spirit is the beginning of Jesus’s condemnation by the council.
Jesus did not hold back. He knew they were watching him closely, and he was returning the favor. They challenged his interpretation, and he call out their own. He went to this prominent member of society’s house for a meal, and he watched how the people acted.
“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.” Jesus says as the people stood around him listening because he had just healed a person on the Sabbath yet again, so he had their attention.
There is something within our human nature that desires recognition. We want to be near greatness. We have in our mind that the closer we are to important people the better we will be seen within our society. This is why scandals in Hollywood are often bigger news than actual news, like say a war in Ukraine. We want to know where celebrities are and what they do. If we use their products we feel as if we are closer to them and people around us will know our worth. We even take it one step further; we go to events where these people might be. It does not matter if it is Comic Con or a political party’s convention we want to be at the event where the people we perceive as great will be. And we tell people about it, so that they will know just where we stand.
Jesus looks at the people at this ruler’s house and he says to them why are you all crowded around the table of honor? You all know good and well there are a limited number of seats at that table and more than likely none of you are going to be sitting there. The person that delivered the invitations will choose who the honored guests will be. The host will choose not those that were invited.
This is significant. As much as I would like to be recognized by the people I respect, the reality is that most of them do not even know I exist. Celebrities are in all practicality, pointless. The people that are truly important are the ones you interact with every day. Our community, the people around us, are most important. How we encourage our neighbor has more lasting and greater long-term effects than who we vote for in a national election. The people teaching our children and grandchildren in our schools are more important. Who we hire to trim the trees or where we buy our groceries effect the lives of people in our community more than any celebrity we may respect. Are we honoring them? Are we encouraging and engaging in a relationship with them? Are we letting them know how important they truly are?
Jesus tells us be honest with yourself. Do not expect respect without relationship. If you are not actively engaging in the lives of those within your community then you should not expect them to know who you are. And if you are active in their lives, more than likely you are not expecting honor because you are more focused on them than yourself. Those that are truly honest with themselves and humble within the community are not concerned with their status or their personal profit. Their concern is their community. All that they do, from their charitable giving to their business practices, from their speech too their family life have the same trajectory. In their mind we rise together.
The problem is that we will always have celebrities. There will always be the people within our society that garner greater recognition than most. And we each desire to be near that greatness. I admit that I have those feelings also. I will stand in line to get autographs at hockey games. I do this so that I can encourage my son to try his best in the game that he loves, knowing full well that it is unlikely that he will ever reach that level, but he should still try. I have books in my personal library that I cherish more than others. I own a printing of Barclay’s Apology, which is the first and one of the few theological texts of Friends, that is older than our Yearly Meeting. It is one of the few books that I display, and I do this for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I am proud of my heritage, and the second is that I want you all to think that I am smart. Along side that book is my great grandfather’s bible, the one that he used when he spoke as a pastor in this yearly meeting as well as others across our nation. I also get excited when my favorite authors publish a new book. And I am even more excited if I have an opportunity to have that book signed. There are even times where I will look at a calendar to see if I could squeeze in a trip to a conference where they will be present. I look but I have yet to go to one of those conferences.
It is part of our human nature to be attracted to great people. It is not sinful, unless we allow those celebrity figures to distract us from God. And it is also not wrong to have honor, respect, or even fame. The question is how do you live your life?
Jesus first spoke to the people in the banquet hall, his fellow guests. He chided them for their social acrobatics. In all our attempts to be known we often miss the whole point of why we are even here. Why do we attend a wedding? Why do we go to a memorial service? Why do we think it is important to go to a conference or even attend any gathering? Jesus then turns his attention to the host.
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, let 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.”
I want to stop for a moment and just say that Jesus is using hyperbole. He is speaking to the extremes of a situation. If I know you and you do not invite me to your wedding I will be upset, and you better believe if your mom is not in the guest list you will have problems. This is not what Jesus is saying in a concrete form. He knows that you will invite people close to you. But he wants us to think beyond our little social circles. Remember who the host is. The host is a ruler of the Pharisees. A high-ranking member of the Sanhedrin, and possibly one of the greatest Rabbis of all time.
Imagine NT Wright was giving a feast. NT Wright is one of the most famous Christian teachers today. If you are watching any program on church history or beliefs, you will often see NT Wright being interviewed. This man is giving a feast. Who do you think will be at that event? You would see other authors, maybe you will see bishops, you may even potentially see members of the Royal family of the United Kingdom. That is to be expected when famous people throw a party, even if the person is famous for religious reasons. I have great respect for NT Wright, and I imagine that if he were to throw a party there would be people at that party that were not dignitaries, because he is a man that lives his faith. But what about other prominent teachers and leaders? How many of us have ever been invited to the Governor’s mansion or the White House?
Jesus is warning us in this parable. Yes, you must invite those that are close to you and those within your social class, but where is your focus? If we are only inviting people that can increase our standing within a group, we are just like the guests seeking the honored seats. I found this in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary:
Jesus lists four groups one should not invite—precisely those groups most often invited: your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, and your rich neighbors … Balancing this list is another list of four groups who should be invited: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Such persons were explicitly forbidden to serve as priests (Lev 21:17–23) and were barred from entry into the Qumran community:
And let no person smitten with any human impurity whatever enter the Assembly of God. And every person smitten with these impurities, unfit to occupy a place in the midst of the Congregation, and every (person) smitten in his flesh, paralysed in his feet or hands, lame or blind or deaf, or dumb or smitten in his flesh with a blemish visible to the eye, or any aged person that totters and is unable to stand firm in the midst of the Congregation: let these persons not enter.
The contrast between such restrictions and the spirit of Jesus’ teachings could hardly be more striking. Jesus does not merely prohibit inviting those in a position to benefit us if our reason for inviting them is to curry their favor. He advises not to invite the powerful or well-to-do because they might return the invitation. Instead, we should invite those who have never had such a meal, who could never return the favor, who will never be our superiors.Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible
That section in the commentary ends by saying, “God is ultimately the only one who can bless us or whose praise matters.”Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible
The teachings of the day barred or forbid some, Jesus tells those that propagate those teachings that they are wrong. Jesus seemingly contradicts the very teachings within Torah. But is that what is being said? No, the crippled and lame may not be able to serve in the Temple, but that does not condemn them from participation in the community. They are still people loved by the Most High God, they too bear God’s image.
Today there is a great deal of discussion about Equality. Friends have been concerned with this from their beginnings in the 17th century. We believe that all people bear the image of God, and that we all carry the light of God within us. We might even say something like love that of God within someone. We are sometimes criticized for this, and some may say are universalists because of that claim, my answer to that is that does not matter. God is the one that judges, not us. Our place is to live in the light and to encourage the light to shine greater in all that we meet. When we begin to limit access, when we make judgements and restrictions, we come very close to condemnation. Those that have been discouraged will look at our faith, our lifestyle, and say that they want nothing to do with God. We effectively close the door and damn them to a life without God. We do this for many reasons, some of those reason may even be supported by scripture. But are they right? Do they reflect God’s mercy and Grace?
Jesus looks at the guests and the host of this banquet. He observes their actions, and he reviews their guest list. And he encourages them. He is asking them to consider their actions. He encourages them to question their intentions. He queries whether their actions and the words that they speak truly reflect the God they acknowledge. And as he questions them, he questions us. Are we being a blessing to those around us? Are our homes and our meeting places able to provide hospitality to those with disabilities? Do our words encourage those around us to strive for something greater? And do we reflect and draw people to the love of Christ? Are we seeking honor for ourselves or are we Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of Christ with others?
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