Twelth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture: Luke 14:1-14 

“Jesus is coming to dinner, and you’re all invited!”

We have to use our imaginations a bit about just how this invitation got passed around because there are precious few details given.bob We know Jesus is coming to dinner. We also know that there was growing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. The dinner gathering was made up of a leader of the Pharisees, a few of his fellow Pharisees and some local bible experts. (Called the “scribes” or “lawyers” in the bible)

We can safely assume then, that the invitation was somewhat disingenuous. Listen once again to these words in the beginning of our scripture. “… Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a mean on the sabbath, {and} they were watching him closely.”

There are two key ingredients that make up the charged atmosphere of this meal time. The scribes and Pharisees watching like a hawk, hoping to get something on Jesus that will enhance their case against him. Jesus, on the other hand, is focusing in on the radical disconnect between the desires of God and the practice of their religion. The passage points to, but can not fully show the tremendous passion that underlies this meal.

As the passage progresses, Jesus by his actions and his words addresses the issues of healing, humility and hospitality. It is perhaps no accident that the healing comes first. It is the healing ministry of Jesus that ignites much of the protest against his ministry. Not so much because of the fact that he heals, but because of the time that he heals. Amazingly, the joy of the healing presence of God in the lives of hurting people is lost to Jesus’ nay sayers. While the crowds of common people are recognizing and rejoicing at the work of God, the because they get all worked up about the legality of whether healing on the sabbath is against the prohibition of working on the sabbath.

Let’s look more closely at how this meal time goes as Jesus addresses:

[1] Healing

As the Pharisees are “watching him closely,” Jesus encounters a man with dropsy. The term dropsy is no longer used in medical literature. The condition is swelling caused by edema or water. One modern version of the bible translates this incident by describing the man as having, “swollen arms and legs.” In any case, the man is there before the meal actually gets started.

The language of the text suggests that the man with dropsy may have been a plant for this occasion. It was not long before this event that Jesus had been teaching in a synagogues. A woman who apparently suffered from severe osteoporosis was present for his teaching. [Luke 13:10-17] Jesus healed her and the ruler of the synagogue lodged a bitter complaint that the woman could be healed on any other day. This healing, he reasoned, was not legitimate because it was done on the sabbath.

The guy totally misses the point. Jesus tells the whole gathered crowd that these religious leaders would not hesitate to walk one of their thirsty donkeys to a place where they could drink on the sabbath – but they would deny this woman (a member of their own faith to be sure) an opportunity for healing. The crowd, however, understands. They break into joyous celebration. What better day to see this woman of faith released from her long burden? How wonderful that she should be healed on God’s day of rest which should be honored by all God’s children!

All of us know people like these Pharisees – don’t we? You know – the person who never sees the positive and can always pick out the negative. There are those folks who can walk into a room with 99 good things to make a positive comment about and perhaps one thing that deserves a bit of criticism – and what do they see first? Right! They can spot the flaw in a microsecond and miss the good things entirely.

Jesus addresses the lawyers and Pharisees before he begins to deal with the sick man who stands before him. He is way ahead of them. They are not interested in the health or illness of the man who stands before Jesus. Talk about manipulation!

He asks them a question. “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” They don’t answer a word. Of course this is a setup. No words are exchanged between the man who is ill and Jesus — at least Luke does not record any conversation. The man is healed and sent on his way. What a great day it was for him. Especially if he expected no more than to assist the religious bureaucrats in trapping Jesus. He goes back to family and home a new man having experience something of the coming of God’s reign.

Now Jesus turns back to his host and his entourage. “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” This time there is more than silence. They, “Could not reply to this.” The disconnect between the desires of God for the children of God and the devotion of the lawyers and Pharisees to the letter of the law brings shame to his adversaries — to say nothing of increased anger and opposition.

The essential point of this lesson is that Jesus brings hope and healing while his detractors bring rules and regulations to those who are seeking the presence of God in their lives.

[2] Humility

Now the meal begins to get underway and Jesus observes how the invited guests begin to head for the head table. In Jesus’ day, tables were closer to the floor than we are used to and guests would recline at couches round the table. The honored guests would be closest to the host. The tables at a larger gathering would be in the shape of a U with the host and most honored guests at the head table.

In the event a honored guest would show up a bit late, someone who had taken a position near the host might be asked to find another spot so that the more important guest might be seated near the host.

Jesus tells a parable which is central to the way God’s kingdom works. If the guests take the lowest position possible at the meal, chances are the host will ask them to move up in position. On the other hand if they come to the meal assuming that they would surely have a seat at the head table, it would be terribly embarrassing to be asked to move to a less favorable seat.

Humility is one of the hallmarks of a person of authentic faith and a central principle in the kingdom of God. Luke 18:14 details the story of how a Pharisee and a sinner went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee suggests to God that he is so thrilled he is not a wretch like the man who prays beside him. On the other hand, the sinner can do nothing but hang his head and beg for God’s mercy. Jesus responds, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

James spells out how it is that humility is the way of advancement with God. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” [4:10]

[3] Hospitality

Now Jesus turns to the host of the meal and talks about hospitality. “Don’t give a dinner for your friends or family and rich neighbors. Rather invite people who have no possible way of paying you back. Invite the poor and dispossessed and you will be blessed by God in the end.”

Throughout his gospel, Luke has focused on Jesus’ heart for the poor and socially unacceptable people of his day. In fact, the sure sign of the presence of God was to be, “good news” for the poor. Messiah’s mission was to bring healing to the sick, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed.

Hospitality is one of the marks of the faithful community. “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers,” Paul wrote to the church at Rome. [Rom. 12:13] The writer of the letter to the Hebrews enjoined his readers, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” [Heb. 13:2]

Those who sought to entrap Jesus in the breaking of sabbath laws missed the point of his healing ministry, failed the test of humility and were self serving in their hospitality.

And so let us be aware that, “Jesus is coming to dinner!” Whenever we reach out to bring hope and healing to others, or open our hearts to those who others reject, Jesus comes to dinner. We are called as people of faith to become a community of hope and healing — a place of hospitality where humility is the mark of greatness.

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