Luke 14: 1-15
And so [after Jesus’ response to the suggestion that he go underground because Herod was out to get him] they were scrutinising him with deep suspicion. It was a Sabbath and he was on his way to share a meal, having been invited by a leader of the Pharisees.
And [what do you know?] a man with the shakes presented himself to Jesus. And in response, Jesus spoke to the lawyers and the Pharisees saying this to them:
“Is it or is it not compliant with Torah to heal on the Sabbath?”
But they were silent, and so he took the man, [did what needed to be done], had him healed and sent him on his way. And he answered [their silence] saying to them:
“Which of you, having come upon your son, or an ox, having fallen into a pit, will not pull him out, even though it be a Sabbath day?”
They were unable to say anything.
And as they went along he taught this parable to those who had been invited, noting how all were keen to get [there first for] the best seats. And this is what he said to them:
“Now when you are invited to a wedding, don’t go trying to sit at the top table [next to the one who invited you] since someone more important than you may have been invited and he who invited you will say to you, ‘Please give way to this man!’ And then, with some embarrassment, you will find yourself in last place [at the other end of the table]. But when you are invited, arrive and take the lower seat so that when you are bidden by your host to come up higher your status shall be revealed to all who sit with you at that meal.
“For whoever puts himself high will be diminished, but the one diminishing himself shall be elevated.”
[Having said this to the other guests] he then addressed the one who had invited him in these terms:
“When you have a celebratory meal [even as in this case to break your fast] or when you [hold a] feast, do not go inviting your friends, nor your brothers, nor your relatives, nor your rich neighbours, in order that they also will invite you in return and you will then have this as credit. But when you throw a feast call the poor, the disabled, the broken-down and the blind. And you shall be blessed since they cannot recompense you; you will receive your reward with the resurrection of those with right standing.”
Given the advice Jesus gave about how to conduct oneself when invited to a wedding, we are left wondering how this is related to what immediately precedes it and with what transpired before that (13:31-35). Are we not meant to understand that the story of the healing of the man with dropsy had to be told in relation to what transpired as a result of Jesus being invited to a meal by a leading Pharisee? Luke tells us that Jesus continued his work “on the way”, and also that he was under surveillance for what he did and for what he said. The context is one of prevailing suspicion by the Pharisees and the Lawyers.
And then there is also the parables that come after this event. Can they help us understand what is going on here too? I suspect so. From 14:15
And one of those reclining there, hearing these things added his two bob’s worth: ‘Blessed are they who will eat their bread in the Kingdom of God!’
I am suggesting that Luke was aware that the story of the Great Feast (Luke 14:16-24) was well known and had done the rounds but that what he was wanting to convey was that Jesus’ telling of this parable had actually been a concrete instance of “bringing the high and mighty down from their seats of great prestige and exalting those of low degree” as Jesus’ mother had put it (1:52). And as we read on, we read how this honoured guest proceeded to instruct the leading Pharisee about how he was henceforth to offer hospitality. Was he really aware of just who this was and what he was telling him? This I take it is the continuity in Luke’s effort to disclose what was going on with these remarkable events.
Luke’s language is notable. When Jesus was confronted by the shaking man, he answered them, he responded to the lawyers and the Pharisees. Luke infers that Jesus knew he was under surveillance. Here again, the healing of a person who needed Jesus’ assistance is on the cusp of being made into an issue of contention. But Jesus, in “taking the game up to them”, shows smart footwork that is a little too quick for them. He was ready. The fellow needed attention and he didn’t need to be embroiled in their contentious wrangling.
Jesus turns to these fellows and asks them straight up:
“Is it or is it not compliant with Torah to heal on the Sabbath?”
By addressing the question to the Lawyers and the Pharisees, Jesus reckons with their social power, a power to make healed people miserable and even when they are healed to feel guilty! But they had no answer to Jesus. They were silent. And so Jesus heals him and sends him on his way.
It is then that he turns on these nit-picking and cowardly Sabbatarians reminding them of what he had said a week or so earlier to a similarly nit-picking synagogue ruler, but with a significant change in his words. Did you notice it? Previously Jesus’ rejoinder was by reference to what people do to care for their animals on the Sabbath. Here, we are reminded of just how much sickness is a genuine disaster, a blight upon the body, and it requires attention whatever day it is. So previously, Jesus was drawing attention to the hypocritical arbitrariness of those presuming to be God’s enforcers of a strict Sabbath; here Jesus simply turns the mentality of the surveillance crew away from using his healing efforts on the Sabbath as part of their case against him. And Luke is telling us Jesus offered his teaching and wisdom to those who opposed him. It is as if he is saying:
“You fellows were quite right to be quiet and say nothing. After all, which of you, having come upon your son, or an ox, having fallen into a pit, will not pull him out, even though it be a Sabbath day? You wouldn’t want that fellow to fall into a pit of false guilt would you?”
And in terms of the continuity of Luke’s narrative, we are reading how Jesus continued to teach. The healing is documented as having taken place at the same time that Jesus was answering the invitation of a leading Pharisee to a meal, and it was teaching delivered as he was “on the way” with all the others who had been invited.
So the teaching was also for the benefit of those watching him and waiting for him to say a word that might be construed as blasphemous (11:53-54). And so the teaching – cast in terms of the way one conducts oneself at a wedding, after being invited and showing up – seems to have had immediate application not just to all the other times one responds to such an offer of hospitality. Luke is depicting Jesus’ boldness. Jesus is teaching them, in effect,
“Don’t go pushing yourself to the front, that way you may well suffer great embarrassment.”
Luke is wanting us to see that the leading Pharisee, along with the Lawyers and the other Pharisees, were keen to have Jesus respond to this Sabbath party invitation by coming to this meal. He’s wanting us to know that Jesus knew full well what was going on with their effort to make him “guest of honour”.
So the healing of the man with the shakes is included to show us that Jesus not only knew the man’s needs but also the needs of these “minders” and what they were up to. Further, Jesus proceeded to develop teaching that had an impact upon his fellow guests “on the way” to the house of the leading Pharisee. He is boldly aware that he has been made “guest of honour” in order to find further incriminating evidence. They are intent upon playing a tricky game. But he remains open and mercifully shows them the way of God’s Kingdom.
For as we have indicated, and as we shall see next time, Jesus then proceeded to tell his host that in God’s Kingdom it is simply never a matter of inviting people of high standing. In fact, those on their way to God’s Feast who can throw parties should be throwing open doors to all those who will never get an invitation on the basis of their social standing.