Sixteenth Day of Lent

Luke 14:7-11
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable: 8 ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, 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 honoured 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 neighbours; 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.’

Once again Jesus’ teaching is shaped by what he notices around him. He’s not using the circumstances around him as sermon illustrations, but as lessons of how the inner drives of human beings can often be destructive of community and relationships, and ultimately of the thing we are most desperate to protect—our self-understanding.

Giving in to the need to be noticed, or surrendering to the inner drive to be recognised as a person of substance, often leads to humiliation.

On the surface though Jesus seems to be a bit disingenuous here. He seems to be saying you should fake your humility because this is way to get ahead (14:10). Like a  Hollywood Oscar winner, crying ‘tears’ in their acceptance speech and pretending this is for everyone else, when we all know they would prefer to be making the speech Father Ted made when he won the Golden Cleric award!

But consider the fact that first of all, the party Jesus is attending is being thrown by a wealthy Pharisee (Luke 14:1). This is unusual in Jesus day because generally speaking Pharisees were not rich, in fact they were barely a step above destitution. So this is unusual.

We should also know that food and hospitality was a hugely important thing. When you invited people for a banquet, you did so in anticipation of a return invitation. It was a way of climbing the social ladder. Get the right invitations, been seen in the right places and be sure that your status will rise accordingly. And so, as the guests are gathering, Jesus is observing the scramble for the best spots.

If you want to live by these rules, if this kind of status is what you crave then, Jesus seems to say, let’s be honest about how it works. And so he cruelly exposes the sham of this lifestyle. (I sometimes wonder why rich and powerful people never learned not to invite Jesus to their parties!).

Jesus exposes a certain value system that works by fakery and then challenges his host to the more authentic lifestyle of a disciple. Throw a party and invite those of no influence, and those who can’t advance your career or reputation (Luke 14:13).  You see, everyone knew that there was no sense in inviting the poor to your party because they would refuse the invitation because they couldn’t return the favour.

Jesus challenges them on their understanding of what it means to be blessed (Luke 14:14). You think that to be blessed means to be invited to the best parties and to be in the company of the best people. But to be truly blessed, reach out to those who can in no way repay you.

The central question of the parable is whether we are prepared to postpone blessing to the resurrection, or whether we want our blessing now.

So here’s a challenge for today, find a way of doing something kind and generous for someone, but do it anonymously. Do it in such a way that the action can never be traced to you. Find the blessing in a random act of kindness for a stranger and the confidence of knowing that God sees.