Scripture: Luke 14: 1,7-14 Jan Savory
Jesus is being watched
This morning we won’t find Jesus walking on water or healing someone of leprosy or expounding truth on some mountain or hanging with the down and out crowd. Oddly enough, he is an invited guest at a sabbath meal in the home an important Pharisee. Probably, this leader has invited the same old crowd that usually shows up—important family members, successful merchants, and rich neighbors – and Jesus.
“They were watching him closely,” the scriptures tell us. Jesus is under close scrutiny by the elite of Jerusalem. After all, he is a cause celebre, a very popular figure with the ordinary folk. So the other guests could just be curious or they could be looking to trap him.
And Jesus is watching
He enters the dining room with a large table. And way at the other end is this head table–like at a wedding reception. That’s when Jesus makes this startling observation. He notices that the room is lopsided. No one down at his end of the long table. Plenty of place settings, but no guests occupy them. All the action is at the other end of the room where the guests are trying to elbow their way to the head table. The host and the most honored guests would sit at the prominent table, slightly elevated and in front of the room.
Now to help us see what Jesus must have seen that afternoon, you must recall that their tables had no legs and so were located on the floor. To eat from it you had to lie supine around it. There wouldn’t have been any chairs. Picture many of the guests trying to squeeze around the head table.
Why such a scene around the head table anyway? For status! Status was very important in an honour and shame society. If you sat up there with an important person, you shared in that person’s status. But that wasn’t how Jesus saw it, and he wasn’t afraid to speak out. “You’ve got it all wrong, friends. Start out humbly, in the back of the room–as if you really don’t deserve to be here–and then perhaps the host may come and say, “Oh hello, I’ve been waiting for you! Please, come and sit with me at the head table. That will really give the dinner guests something to talk about.” .
He finishes up his words with a simple rule of thumb: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” A paraphrase has Jesus saying, “”If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face.”
Invited to the Kingdom Banquet
Those words are familiar, aren’t they? They’re kingdom words. Jesus is not just talking about another social event. He is not “Dear Abby”, giving shallow advice about table protocol. Jesus is using the parable of the banquet to tell us something about ourselves. To begin with the very, very good news: we are all invited! We are all invited to participate in the great feast of life in God’s Kingdom!
The upside-down kingdom, where the way to the top is down. To get to the front, go to the back. To be exalted, be humble. Jesus is not giving us a principle that if followed diligently, will result in a promotion or raise. He is telling us about the Kingdom of God as it is lived out in our lives. This teaching was counter cultural then and still is today.
Welcome, my beloved child
In this kingdom banquet, God is our host. God calls us to celebrate. No matter, how burdened we are. No matter, what our profession or calling is. Or if we have achieved something in life or not. We are invited. Our ticket for entering the banquet hall is the grace and forgiveness of God. God knows that none of us are perfect, and God doesn’t expect us to be perfect in order to attend. God calls out to each one of us: Welcome, my beloved child! I love you, my dear child. Come, celebrate this wonderful news!
Who should we invite
But it’s no cause to rest on our laurels. We are at the banquet; we have arrived –or have we? Remember this is the upside-doom kingdom. After chastising the guests looking for status at the head table, Jesus turns to the host. What about your guest list? Don’t invite only those who can pay you back. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – in other words be like God, who doesn’t discriminate in who he invites to the kingdom banquet – and you will be blessed.
Really Jesus, are you serious? Not only are you telling me to forget the recognition I deserve? Ignore the pecking order — or worse — upend it? Don’t network, don’t promote myself? That won’t get me far in this world. You want me to open my heart and home to people who can do nothing for me? People I have no affinity for? People I can’t impress, earn favors from, or show off to my competition? Why on earth should I do that? Because Jesus insists on it. Because this is who God is, the Great Reverser of our priorities, our hierarchies, and our values
Welcome, my beloved child to God’s pot luck feast
Serving God and neighbor is more like a community potluck than a gourmet meal in the finest restaurant. It’s less about fancy food and fine china and crystal. Its more about everyone getting together, having enough to eat and getting along.
It’s less about looks and much, much more about love. God’s love for us and our love for each other. Welcome to God’s upside-down kingdom, where God says: Welcome. my beloved child.