Luke 14:1,7-14 CEB
I love a good meal. Meals with families. Meals with friends. A quiet meal by myself with a good book. Meals sustain us and define us. Meals are important, partly because they give us the much needed energy to get through the day, but also because of what we learn from them. Meals are moments of sharing. Having a BBQ when a high schooler graduates, a reception at a wedding, the communion table. These are all celebrations during meals. They shape who we are as a community and as an individual. Meals are so important, cultures designate rules to regulate how and when you should eat.
In England you might take part in tea time. Depending on the time of day it could be a low tea, a light tea, or a full tea. The most common being a low tea which is usually taken between 3-5 in the afternoon and eaten in a drawing room paired with scones and sitting on big couches. In Germany it is offensive to place your hands under the table while eating. Also, when you complete your meal, instead of putting your napkin on the table, it is customary to criss cross your knife and fork over your plate. (At least this is according to my German Professor who was German.)
In the Middle East, during the time of Jesus, the Jewish custom was heavily influenced by the Roman custom. Invitations to parties were sent out twice, first to tell you there was a party and the second to remind you to go to it. A Triclinia, for those who could afford it, were very ornate square rooms with a door on one side and a couch on each of the other three walls. The couch facing the door was the place of honor. It was where the host would sit with the most honored guests on either side of him. The closer you sat to the host the more important you were.
In our scripture today, apparently some of the guests were rushing to get to those prime spots. Jesus took this rush to share a teaching moment. As Luke writes, he's telling a parable, but in actuality the parable is extremely close to a text from the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 25:6-7 “Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” Sounds very similar, doesn't it? Jesus is doing some very particular things by using the Proverb as the base for his parable.
First, the Sadducees and Pharisees sought admiration and attention. Some of you might remember another parable Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee prayed in a way that drew attention to himself. Meanwhile the tax collector was humble before God. Using both the parable for today and the tax collector parable, Jesus was illustrating how the Pharisees actions should be opposite of what they were doing. In other words, be humble or you will be put in your place.
Second, using scripture to make his point was kinda a slap in the face to everyone there. The religious leaders were supposed to be the people who kne the scripture up and down and followed it to the letter. Here is Jesus suggesting they are less than righteous because they are doing something outside scripture. In one breath Jesus has been invited to move up the social ladder by attending this very posh meal. In another breath Jesus doesn't fear the truth and doesn't need the status to do what is right. I would bet the silence that filled the room after he spoke was deafening. At the very least, everything was awkward after Jesus spoke. At most, it was hostile and Jesus could have been kicked out of the party.
Finally, and most importantly, he is using the Proverb to segway to his real point. Point blank he looks at the leader, the host, and calls him out: “You are only having parties to get invited to someone else's party later. You are only communing with your inner circle and that is not what God has called you to do.” By suggesting he should invite the poor, lame, and blind he is saying something extremely bold yet very simple: “DO YOUR JOB!” The priests were supposed to bring the community closer to God not cut them off. The way the Pharisee's had parties and sent invitations was insight into how they treated their community. They were the same leaders who allowed the widow to put her last mite into the communion pot instead of taking care of her. They lost track of their purpose.
Who and how we share meals are insightful to who we truly are. We might be inviting Jesus to our meals, but what would he say about the feasts we are engaging in? Are we open enough to hear what he is going to tell us? Maybe I can presume: Don't work for or with a ministry because they can give you the great childcare, flashy lights, or nice paycheck. Don't do God's work for personal gain. Instead, do what you do because it is what you are called to and what is right.
This scripture is the positive example to Matt 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well." Our scripture for today would be like saying, "You have heard it said, Do good to get good things. But I say to you that you must help those who cannot help you in return. If you act in a loving way, you must not expect that action returned to you."
Real, honest, and good change happens when we are willing to expand our hearts instead of our influence.
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