Luke 14:1, 7-14
Jesus Heals the Man with Dropsy
14 On one occasion when Jesus[a] was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
Humility and Hospitality
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at 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 the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 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.”
What does it mean to be invited? Doesn’t it feel good to be included?
In Jesus’ time, the whole social system was based on transaction. Invitations came with a price and an expectation. If you do this, you will earn my honor, if you don’t, then my shame. That’s why poor folk weren’t invited to banquets of wealthy folk, they couldn’t return the favor and it was viewed as dishonoring to the poor. But, as you can imagine, it created and promoted an inequitable system…it kept people separated in relationship. It also created an “either/or” situation.
Usually, we get invited to events because of relationships of some sort. Family members, friends, folks that we’ve been around. Sometimes we get invited to other events because of our affiliations or because of something we’ve done. Weddings are a great example.
I love officiating weddings.
This summer I’ve officiated two. Both were former youth group kids at Northminster. One was at Northminster, the other at Rhinegeist. Both, very fun…and both planned out meticulously. The invitations were sent, the only expectation, show up and celebrate… except of course for me, I had some work to do! Some very fun work I might add!
In Jesus’ time, folks were invited to banquets, or dinners, even weddings, often for favors.
There was a strict social norm for invitation. If you were invited to a meal or a dinner, you were expected to some time return the favor in this honor and shame culture. It was about patronage and earning that persons honor. If one did not return a favor, then they were shamed. Therefore, a person of means, of wealth, would not invite a poor person because they would shame the poor person because they would not be able to return the favor.
Jesus was invited to this particular meal because he was a prominent teacher at the time. Probably folks in the religious leadership were curious as well, or maybe they had heard about Jesus’ words or his miracles and were intrigued. Jesus certainly had the ear and imagination of the people that the religious leaders did not.
At the beginning of this meal, Jesus does perform a miracle. A man with dropsy, or an edema, a swelling of tissue that could be caused by something like congestive heart failure, came to Jesus for a cure. Jesus asked the religious experts, those who knew procedure, rules, and the law of temple worship if it was OK to heal on the sabbath, to deliver this man. The religious folk were silent, even as they were confronted by this man’s humanity. But, their silence betrayed them…their inaction gave witness to hearts formed by the status quo rather than the dynamic love of God.
So, Jesus, out of love, healed the man and, the scripture says, released him. He was released from his crippling physical issue, as well as the rules and the social structure that kept him in a crippled state as a person.
Jesus doesn’t have animosity for the religious leaders, he simply wants them to break free into the expansive grace of God’s presence, God’s flow of love into their lives.
Jesus also wants to let them know that the Sabbath is not simply a time to stop, but it is a time to step back, look at our lives, be transformed and healed. To think about the things that are close to God’s heart. It is not meant to simply be a time of doing nothing, but on the contrary, a dynamic time of seeking God, seeking inner healing.
Jesus is, in effect, turning upside down their worldview, one of keeping things in a static state…which will lead to a slow death. Instead, pondering on God’s active and dynamic presence can lead to change and growth. But, You know, I can’t blame the religious leaders, they’d been raised in this culture, it’s what they knew. They were probably decent folk who had emotional attachments to a system that seemed to be working and it seemed good for them, or so they thought.
Jesus has gained their attention through his miracle and comments on God’s desire for the sabbath…now he’s inviting folks to think with a worldview that God intended. One that isn’t “either/or” but “both/and”. A Greek honor and shame worldview was dualistic, black and white, hierarchal. Jesus is saying that God’s worldview is non-dualistic, based on the oneness of God’s being and presence that encompasses us and calls us to be in in equitable and honoring relationships with everyone…we don’t earn honor, nor do we expect others to earn our honor, we give it freely to all, even to those who may not deserve it.
That’s hard to do, that’s not what we think is fair, yet that’s what Jesus teaches us all of the time…that’s why we often struggle with stories like this or with parables about folks getting paid the same wage whether they worked all day or an hour. God doesn’t show favoritism and wants us to let go of interacting with others in a way that really is countercultural, even now. Give folks honor, give them respect, even if they don’t always earn it. We are often so quick to criticize, to complain, and even live in our own shame, maybe even shame others. But, God’s way is a way of encouragement, including, and loving…that doesn’t necessarily lead to a transactional relationship, but it does lead to transformation and real growth.
Jesus calls those at the banquet his friends, and he wants his friends to break away from the worldly patterns of shaming others and feeling shame, which robs them, and us, of life, but to live in encouragement of one another. In our story, Jesus says to serve others, to not look for the places of honor, but to allow the master of the banquet to lift us up… not because we’ve earned it, but because we are loved. Jesus also understands that it takes inviting others in to our homes, churches, and even our very lives, folks that can’t necessarily give us what we think we need. It’s easy to invite our friends or ones who we know will return favors, people of means, but Jesus says to go out get the lame, the poor, the immigrant, the crippled…that when we do, we will be blessed, not with earthly blessings…folks may not repay us, but we will be blessed in another way. We will experience resurrection. By doing the right thing, being righteous in our relationships, we are resurrected in our own lives.
Friends, that’s what God is calling us towards in our own lives, and in this church. WE are called to invite others in to a great banquet of a church that is to be a foretaste of the the Kingdom of God…now, folks may not repay us with much, they may not be able to earn our honor or repay us with a good tithe or what we may think we’d want, but God says that as we invite folks, open up our church to others, and as we honor them and as we humble ourselves before each other, maybe not getting exactly what we thing we want, we will be blessed and we will receive God’s honoring us with resurrection in this life which will be with us into eternity. We can grow this church, and grow ourselves…it may not look the way we think it should right now, but God has a vision for us to be a place of right relationship in a world that’s desperately searching for some kind of authentic love.