I was sitting at the Burlington Convocation clergy breakfast the other morning when I heard the story of a certain bishop who was found by the storyteller one day in a total huff; he was on the verge of despondency, and so this priest approached gently, thinking that perhaps someone close to this bishop had died. Well, it turned out that the bishop was in such a state because he had just found out that he was not supposed to wear his cope and mitre, the prize and very public display of his bishopric, to the installation of the Roman Catholic bishop in town. The priest finished the story, took a breath, and then said, so much for “when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place…For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
“Luke 14:1 tells us that Jesus had been invited for a dinner party at the house of a “prominent Pharisee,” which we could literally translate as a kind of “arch Pharisee” from the Greek “ARCHON.” The adjective refers to a lead Pharisee, someone who was very high up in the Pharisee leadership structure. So it is likely that this man did not live in a modest row house in Jerusalem but probably occupied a ritzy and large home to which, on this particular Sabbath, a lot of people had been invited. In fact, it may well have been the case that a Sabbath noon invitation to this man’s house was the hottest ticket in town…
“But why was Jesus invited? He was not a real popular person among the Pharisees, after all. Based on the text I suspect he was not invited out of love. But I cannot tell just what the motive really was, either. There are several possibilities. Perhaps it was borne out of social necessity–the host didn’t really want to invite him but given his current popularity, etiquette demanded that they not snub this new rabbi. Or perhaps there was an element of vanity in the invitation–precisely because Jesus’ star seemed to be rising just then, having him for dinner would be yet another feather in this Pharisee’s social cap.
“More darkly, however, it may also have been the case that they were setting Jesus up. Personally, I tilt this direction based on the fact that in verse 1 we are told that Jesus was being “very carefully watched.” There is an old saying that says “Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer.” Sometimes the best strategy to bring down your enemy is to get cozy with him, make him relax and let his guard down. Because then he might slip up, divulge a piece of information he shouldn’t reveal, do something before your very eyes that you would otherwise never see but can now use as evidence against the person.”1
Jesus could not have been completely unaware of this, and so we can assume that He entered this party with an eye on them as well. Our lesson didn’t include this, but Jesus wasn’t there 10 minutes before an unfortunate gentleman wandered in front of Him, a man that Luke described as being udrwpiko, or having water; he had dropsy, in other words, nowadays we call it edema.2 Jesus doesn’t hide the fact that He is going to heal this man, He even makes a thing out of it; maybe He was fed up with people criticizing Him for healing on the Sabbath, if you remember the Gospel from last week. If that wasn’t enough, a few moments later as the guests were jockeying for the good seats, Jesus perks up again. The guests would have sat on couches with three seats, the middle seat being the chief seat, where the host and members of his family would sit, and then the seats on the right of that chief seat would be seats of honor. Jesus is less than amused at the other guests because they were trying to honor themselves, to get themselves noticed for the Roman era equivalent of the social page photographers.
Jesus tells them how this should really work, that one should humble one’s self and wait to be exalted, and then He said something even worse, really. Noticing that pretty much everyone there was rich and exciting, Jesus pointed that out and said “when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” Why? “Because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
It will come as no surprise to any of you to learn that this is the last fancy dinner party Jesus was ever invited to by the Pharisees. I guess that wherever Jesus went, people got found out, either for their vanity or for their dignity. So the question becomes, What do our dinner parties look like, and do we dare invite Jesus?
1Scott Hoezee, This Week
2Robertson’s Word Pictures.