Christian Text Study JCMA Winter Conference July 2011 – Harry Kerr

Humility and Hospitality
Luke 14.12-14

12 Jesus said also to the Pharisee 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 neighbours, 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.”

The Parable of the Great Dinner

15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19Another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20Another said, I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22And the slave said, Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23Then the master said to the slave, Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'”

This passage is one of the parables of Jesus, the stories he told to make a point. Jesus was a Jew. The writers of the gospels, in this case Luke, placed him firmly within the Jewish tradition. He was an insider who taught from within the Jewish tradition. He was often critical of it. He did not seek to deconstruct it. He sought to point to what he believed to be the true meaning of the Jewish scriptures and tradition. He was particularly critical of the group called the Pharisees, those who saw themselves as the guardians of the law. But again he did so as an insider. It is clear he knew many of them well and was invited to their homes and he may well have been one himself.

We can not understand the Christian scriptures without knowing the Jewish scriptures on which they are based. The background to this passage is the prophet Isaiah chapter 25 when God makes for all people (not just the Jews) a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines. This feast is a sign of the ultimate salvation for all nations. By the time of Jesus the guests that God feast had become restricted to Jews who were healthy and people of position.

Jesus has been invited to the home of a Pharisee who was uncomfortable with Jesus healing a sick man on the Sabbath. He responds by suggesting that when we have a party we should not invite family and rich friends, those who can have us back but the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, who cannot have us back and have fallen out of favour with God. 15One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” meaning the people who have found favour with God because of their virtuous and successful lives.

Jesus then goes on to make the point by telling the story. When someone of importance invited other significant people to a feast they received two invitations. The first, a couple of days before told them the feast was on and the host requested the pleasure of their company. If they accepted it was almost a binding contract. Based on the acceptances the host would a kill a chicken, a goat or a calf and prepare the meal. When it was nearly ready the servant would be sent round to tell them at everything was ready. To refuse at this point was deeply offensive. Clearly the supposed excuses were bogus. Who would buy land they hadn’t seen at a time of day they couldn’t see it properly. Who would buy a yoke of Oxen without testing them first? To refuse in order to spend time with a woman was most offensive of all.

The host is angry and overturns convention by sending two further invitations: the first to the people on the streets of the town, the poor, the lame the blind, the crippled. They were by definition unclean and outside God’s favour. The second is to people out beyond, right outside the Jewish community who could expect absolutely nothing. For them it was polite to refuse the invitations as they couldn’t possibly be worthy so they had to taken by the arm and gently brought to come in. It will be a full house despite the insulting refusals.

So Luke’s message is that Jesus is sent to tell us that God’s feast is now ready. Jesus is the sign that God’s final; feast is beginning. If we refuse God’s invitation we miss out and those who expect nothing those considered to be beyond the pale will be welcomed. God does not need us but he offers his grace and salvation to those who expect nothing.