Jesus was not simply invited to eat at the home of a friend. This was no simple meal. The Greek shows us that it was a lavish affair—hence the jockeying for position at the table. The closer you sat to the host, the greater your importance. There were no place cards. You just can’t take Jesus anywhere without there being a scene.
As Jesus arrives at this lavish dinner party, Luke describes the scene as if we were seeing it through Jesus’ eyes. Can you imagine Jesus walking in and slowly taking in the setting—the extravagance, the opulence, the rich and famous, and a few poorer folks? There was likely plenty of elbowing and jockeying for position as each strove to get closer to the host— to better participate in the conversation or to at least hear it.
One thing we know Jesus does consistently, especially throughout Luke’s gospel, is he turns everything upside down. From his first sermon at the synagogue proclaiming, his anointing “…to bring good news to the poor…release to the captives…sight to the blind, to … free [the] oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19) to Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, in Luke, declaring the Lord, “has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). God in Christ continues to change the social order in today’s text. Jesus upsets the dinner protocol of the day.
The one word that is in nearly every verse is some form of “invite.” It also means call. First, Jesus addresses those invited, putting the well-to-do in their places. They are not to put themselves first, at the best seats. After all, they may have mistaken the closeness of their relationship to the host. For Jesus and Luke, these instructions are not simply about table manners, nor are they a strategy for attaining the highest place after all. Rather, Paul’s words to the Roman church apply here, “… I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).
Next, Jesus counsels the inviters, the hosts. In that day, it was normal to invite people who could do something for you. It was a proverbial tit-for-tat. It was also good for the invitees to be seen hobnobbing with important people. Jesus, however, tells hosts to invite the outsiders, those from whom they cannot benefit.
How many of us experienced awkward middle and high school times—those moments at lunch when you didn’t know where to sit, no one invited you, and you’re standing there balancing your loaded, heavy cafeteria tray while you scan the room seeking a friendly, empty seat, while trying not to look like the outsider you feel like.
I experienced this as an adult when we lived in RI. On my first day of work, I went into the break room for lunch, not knowing anyone. No one introduced themselves or spoke to me—not the person to my right, my left or across from me. I couldn’t believe it and immediately wondered if this place would ever be a good fit for me. It never was, and I left after sticking it out for less than a year. It’s no fun being the new kid, the outsider.
Listen to the upside downness of Jesus’ teaching. “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14). The word “blessed” is the same one used in the beatitudes, and it's empowering and declarative. “…they cannot repay you,” but God does. “‘Blessed' does not merely describe something that already is, but brings into being the reality declared” (Brian Stoffregen).
God invites us to an amazing banquet, the marriage supper of the Lamb of God. We are totally undeserving. It is far above our station in life. There’s nothing we can do to be good enough to sit closest to the host—except, the host is one with a basin and a towel, washing the feet of his disciples. This humble host does not shut the door on anyone. We see a picture of what the kingdom looks like—reaching out to the marginalized. This is one place where the kids’ table IS the place of honor. “If we think about this parable as a reference to God, then we get a new name for God… The one who has invited or called you. God as one who calls!” (Rob Myallis).
Speaker, author and teacher, Brian McLaren writes:
If you listen to the Spirit, here is what will happen to you. You’ll be at a party and you’ll notice on one side of the room all the beautiful people laughing and having fun together. In a far corner, you’ll notice a person who is alone, feeling awkward, not knowing anyone. The Spirit will draw you to the person in need. You may become the bridge that connects the outsider to the insiders—and in that connection, both will be better off.
Let us pray. O Holy Spirit, tune our hearts and ears to hear your voice. May we notice and be drawn to the lonely, to those feeling awkward. Make us bridges to connect all in your love. Amen.
M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary\
Lisa Cressman, backstorypreaching.org
Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation in Center for Action and Contemplation email
Rob Myallis, lectionarygreek.blogspot.com
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.compicture