One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.
5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
There are two dinners in this passage – one’s real and the other’s part of a parable. I never thought about it before, but Jesus wasn’t particularly diplomatic at this dinner as a guest. He sets out to offend pretty much everyone (except the guy he healed). He offends the Pharisees and experts in the law (that term “experts” always makes me laugh in reference to anything spiritual) when he heals the guy on the wrong day of the week. Then, in his parable he scolds the other guests when he indicts them about their pride in taking the best seats. And finally, in his worst social faux pas for the evening he lectures the host by suggesting that he invite another brand of people to his dinner parties! Jesus was definitely not on his best behavior that night!
He antagonizes people for their legalism, pride and stinginess all in one party! Conversely he advocated compassion, humility, and generosity – qualities, I’m sorry to say are pretty much lacking among us, his followers. If you’re interested, here are a few of my thoughts about those three virtues.
Compassion – The other guests at dinner were experts on the textbook; that’s how they related to the Bible as a text (I prefer the “love letter” approach, myself), but they were total “unfriendlies” when it came to people. There’s a guy in the house that’s got a huge need, and even if your rules are properly interpreted and applied, at least ask God if you can bend the rules to help a guy! OK, maybe not “bend” them, but since God is a people-person, it stands to reason that his rules are meant to help rather than hurt people.
My guess is that even if there hadn’t been a rule that they were obliged to keep, there would’ve been no compassion shown this guy anyway. His condition according to the NIV was an “abnormal swelling of his body.” It makes me wince to think about what he must’ve looked like. I’m in the hospital a lot, and I see people whose suffering is visible, and it makes my own health problems seem teensy. And even though this man’s body was swollen (bigger than usual), they still didn’t see him!
But like I said, I don’t get the impression that this guy would’ve gotten what he needed from anyone there that night even if there hadn’t been a religious rule at stake. And if not healing, at least somebody give him a cup of cold water – come on! Shabbat or not, nobody cared!
Don’t you think that we (followers of the God of compassion) should be at the forefront of compassion? I’m ashamed to admit that until recently I thought “justice” in Bible only referred to God’s need to judge the sinner. In my mind I never connected justice with compassion. Why are we Christians so slow to be compassionate? Maybe we, like Job’s famous fiendish friends, think somewhere way in the back of our minds that the sufferer probably did something to incur God’s disapproval. “I’m good, and that’s why I don’t have the problem that guy has. If he were as good as me, he wouldn’t be in that condition. God will help him when he gets himself right.” Maybe we’ve used all our compassion currency on our good Christian friends who, though many have enormous needs, have mere minor bumps and bruises compared to the profoundly hurting and sick lost one. I’ve often thought that no matter how big my needs are as a Christian, they can’t compare to the need of a pre-christian. I may get sick and even die, but I know I’m going home. The lost one has no home to go to! Anyway, maybe we’ve depleted all our compassion-savings on our church friends and don’t have anything left for the truly lost and hurting.
Humility – Being humble saves you a lot of embarrassment later. It’s embarrassing to have to be lowered by someone else. (“You’ll have to take that seat over there!”) Pride comes before a fall and a fall comes before humiliation. Rather than to make God happy, I think that I sometimes practice humility in just order to escape humiliation. I’d much rather that people thought I was lower on whatever scale of importance that we’re talking about and then surprise them, than get humiliated by proving that I’m not as good as I presented myself to be. It’s pretend modesty, where I actually think I’m better than what I’m projecting, and hoping people will think I’m humble and unassuming. People like you more when you’re humble. Though I’ve gotten pretty good at this, I think most people can see through the ruse.
Spiritual pride has got to be the ugliest of all other forms, don’t you think? God says that it’s like smoke in his nostrils when people think they’re too good for other people. “I’m right more often than than you are about spiritual things… I love God more than you do… I know more about the Bible than you do… I do more for him than you… my ministry is more effective than yours and more important than yours… my church is better than yours… my pastor can beat up your pastor!”
Generosity – I know a lot of very generous Christians who give tons of time, talent, and treasure away for the benefit of others. I’m deeply indebted to a number of them and thank God for them. But the particular application of the generous spirit that Jesus urges here is something I think is lacking in my own life and among my Jesus-following peers. He has the audacity to pry into the sacred right of every person regarding who we have over for dinner! Well, of course it’s not wrong to have friends and family for a meal, but maybe we should take a quick look at last year’s calendar and see the ratio of the poor and not so poor that we had at our table!
‘Cuz I’m feeling pretty convicted myself about this, I’ll quickly shift the sin-pointer away from the personal application to a more corporate one, and talk about how churches should take his counsel more seriously. Take a look at your church’s bulletin or monthly calendar and do a comparison between the events that feed, bless, benefit the well fed versus the under-fed. Oh, and before you start, I propose that the offerings that your church gave to the destitute only count for a half “credit.” It’s not that it’s bad to give money away, but Jesus is talking about inviting people to our table, not sending them care packages for them to eat on their laps on the sidewalk. I think it’s good to send money or food or clothes, or even take them and drop them off to those in need, but it’s tons better to invite them to our home to eat with us. The gospel blimp that hovers over and drops provisions is good, but no friends are made that way! How many church events are designed to practice actual hospitality (the New Testament term means “love of strangers”)? As a pastor I served churches for over 30 years and I confess that we practiced precious little of that kind of hospitality. I shudder to think of the embarrassing ratio between what we did for ourselves and what we did for the community. Another mistake we make is to keep our members so busy doing churchy things that we have little to no time or money left for the desperate. Jesus told his disciples that they’d always have the poor among them. Could he have meant that the poor would always be hanging around his followers because they were such generous people?
That’s what Jesus said at this dinner. Next time you sit down to your own dinner, rather than just say the perfunctory prayer of blessing over what you have, invite the Lord to be with you at the table and say to you whatever he might have on his mind, even if he has to offend you a little bit by saying it.