“Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal.” Luke 14:1
The word “meal” can provide us with an acronym to think about four words from Jesus’ encounter at the house of the Pharisee leader: motivations, esteem, attitude and luncheon.
Thinking of the meal, we ask about motivations. Saint Luke Chapter 14 Verse 1 tells us, “On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.” To invite someone to a meal at one’s house was a mark of deep respect in the society of Jesus’ time, people did not invite someone to eat with them without careful thought as to how their invitation would be construed, by the person invited, and by others. Yet the Pharisees’ motivation does not seem to be one of showing honour and respect for Jesus, rather than being pleased at his presence and listening to what he might say, they spend the time watching him, looking for opportunities to pass judgement. They have been guilty of a breach of hospitality, their motivation has been hypocritical. Jesus notices the hypocrisy of his hosts, Verse 7 says, “When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable.”
How often are we hypocritical like the Pharisees? How often is our faith not about being pleased at God’s presence with us, not about us being prepared to listen to what he might say to us, but instead about us trying to use God for our own motivations?
The second word with which we might think about the reading is esteem. The Pharisees were people who were certainly not lacking in a sense of self-esteem, Jesus is critical of the show they make of their religious observances. Jesus doesn’t just question their thinking, he questions their behaviour. In Verse 8, he says to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host.” To people with a sense of self-importance, the thought would not have occurred there were others more distinguished. The idea of giving up their place would have aroused as much a sense of indignation as humiliation, they would have been displeased at the thought of what Jesus was saying in Verse 9, “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.” Jesus tries to teach them that esteem is something granted by others, not something they could assume as of right, telling them, in Verse 10, “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 honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.”
Are we like the Pharisees in assuming we have a right to esteem? In times of “selfies” and self-obsession in the social media; in times of the presumption that we have a right to say as we wish and not to hear anything we do not like; in times of inflated egos, how do we cope with Jesus’ teaching about taking humble places?
The third word is attitude. In Verse 11, Jesus states in blunt terms, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” It’s hard to imagine how the leader of the Phariseees presiding at the meal, would have reacted to Jesus’ words. Might he have been more mystified than provoked at the attitude Jesus was suggesting? What Jesus was saying was so much a reversal of the world’s ways, so much a turning upside down of everything they had known, that they would probably have been confused as to what he meant, surely the attitude Jesus wanted from his followers could not be as straightforward as the words he used? Even the first Christians had problems holding such an attitude, Saint Paul writes to the Christians at Philippi, telling them, in the Letter to the Philippians Chapter 2 Verse 5, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
The church seems to ignore Jesus’ instructions regarding our attitude. Look at the way in which the church conducts its life, and we have to ask if we have the attitude that was in Christ Jesus. Don’t we also ignore Jesus’ instructions, how often are we prepared to humble ourselves?
Motivation, esteem, and attitude, our final word is much more practical: luncheon. In Verses 12-13, Jesus is very practical and specific about the way in which his host should conduct himself. If the host had been mystified by what Jesus had said about being humbled and exalted, he could have been under no illusion about what Jesus was saying about being a host. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” The poor, the crippled and the blind were seen as those not favoured by God, the Pharisees would have believed that misfortune was due to sin, but Jesus was saying these people are the very people who should be invited. There would have been mutterings around the table, the suggestion would have seemed outrageous to those who heard it. Jesus continues, in Verse 14, “And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Showing favour to those who were believed to have suffered God’s disfavour was what would bring eternal reward; the idea would have been too much for the Pharisees.
“Luncheon” is the most challenging of the four words. Motivation, esteem and attitude are words about what we think, they are internal, intangible, unobservable; luncheon is much more basic, it is about what we do. Does what we do match what Jesus expects? It is a simple question to which we know the answer.
The meal Jesus attends challenges us: in thought, word and action, do we respond to Jesus?