Luke 14:15-24

Before the advent of television, one of the most important times for families was the dinner table. Once a day, it was the time when all family members would gather together and share in a common meal. But they didn’t just gather to eat food. No! It was a time when they would talk about the events of the day and the things that concerned them. And why was that so important? Because, the meal table was a good place to build relationships, to care for one another, and to discuss the issues of the day.

As a consequence, we shouldn’t be surprised, that Jesus made a habit of sharing meals, and with all sorts of people—tax collectors, sinners, outcasts, disciples, etc. And, in this particular case, with a group of Pharisees.

Now the background to this passage is, that after a service at a local synagogue, Jesus was invited by a Pharisee to join him in a meal. Now, the Pharisee’s motive was probably highly questionable, because at that time the Pharisees were suspicious of Jesus and were looking for evidence against him. But Jesus went anyway. And, Jesus took the opportunity that mealtime discussions brought to talk about the kingdom of God.

Indeed, firstly, he provided what appears to be a bit of worldly advice: He recommended that the guests at the meal not to sit themselves at the highest places at the table—lest they run the risk of being humiliated by being asked to move down the table. Instead they should take a lower place and then enjoy the ‘glory’ of being asked to take a higher place. Good worldly advice. Although, what he was really saying was that we should not seek positions of glory with God.

Then, secondly, he gave some advice to other potential hosts on their choice of guests for a meal. That is, the host should not invite his friends, lest the only reward that he gets is to be invited back. Rather the host should invite the poor and needy—people who could not repay him. Now this may not have seemed to have been good worldly advice, but his point was that one should seek to do good to those who are needy who cannot do anything in return, and that they should leave the whole question of recompense to God.

Now, whilst for most part, the spiritual meaning of Jesus’s words appears to have been lost on the guests, one did pick up what Jesus was on about (15). He saw through the worldly advice to the spiritual truth behind it. And he expressed his hope of looking forward to participation in the heavenly banquet—the great supper—the reward for the faithful. And it is to this that Jesus’s third remark was pointed.

Because Jesus then described a great banquet where many guests were invited (16). Then, when the meal was ready, the master sent his servant out to let his invited guests know it was time to come (17). But no one came. They all made excuses, and they used love, possessions or domestic ties (18-20) to excuse their non-attendance.

Now, understandably, the master was livid. Indeed, at the end of the story, we’re told that none of the invited guests were able to share in the meal (24). But there were others who could share it. So, with the meal being ready, the servant was sent out into the town (21), and then into the country (22-23) to gather other people in.

Now, of course, whether Jesus’s audience, in general, understood the meaning of the story, is doubtful. Indeed, we’re given no indication that they responded in any meaningful way. The one man who had picked up the original spiritual significance of Jesus’s words, may well have done, but if he had, he was probably alone, as the meaning of the story went over everyone else’s head. They certainly didn’t respond to the deeper meaning of his words, but they would have understood that he had effectively insulted them three times.

He insulted them with the advice about places of honour, as he accused them of picking the greatest places of honour. He insulted them with the advice about who to invite to a meal, as he accused them of only ever inviting each other and not caring for others. And he insulted them by accusing them of having been invited to participate in God’s great banquet, only for them to turn the invitation down.

Now, that’s quite an insult to the Pharisees, and is it any wonder that they were out to get Jesus?

But, if the spiritual meaning was lost on the Pharisees, it should not be lost on us today. So, today, three things:

Firstly, do we seek places of honour, or are we content with sitting down the table? Do we go for the pat on the back, encouraging others to tell us what a great job we are doing? Or do we simply go about our business, and if we are rewarded, accept it with grace?

Secondly, do we only invite people who are able to reciprocate to our invitation? Do we care only for those with the capacity to care for us back? Or do we go out of our way to help others, regardless of their ability to return the favour?

And thirdly, have we accepted Jesus’s invitation to the great banquet? Have we accepted his gift of salvation? Or do we keep coming up with excuses why we cannot participate?

Meal times are great things, and the family meal is and should be something that should be guarded very highly indeed. But sadly that isn’t always so today. Nevertheless, many great things have been discussed around the meal table. Not least of which have been today’s challenges from Jesus.

So, today, how do we respond to the challenges of Jesus? Do we see the spiritual truths behind his messages? Or, like the Pharisees, do we simply seek honour for ourselves? Do we simply care for those who can care back? And, have we found better things to do that to go to the great banquet?

Posted 25th January 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis