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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before Sepember 1, 2013

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

What I am Learning:

Jesus is continuing his public ministry and he is under scrutiny. He has been invited by a Pharisee to a meal on the sabbath. Pharisees were a reforming movement with first century Judaism. They believed that if all the faithful of Israel followed all 613 laws, then God would send the messiah. This view was a bit mechanical and it had another downside: it served to blame the poor folk who did not have the basic wealth and well-being to obey all these laws.

These meals were not just dinner parties. They were a central part of first century culture. Each guest would sit in a place determined by their public rank, their honor rating. These conversations were really more akin to debates. The winner of a debate would move up in honor rating and the loser would move down.

Your ranking in the honor system determined a lot about your life:  Who you children could marry, who you did business deals with,  who was able to speak first, who spoke last, and who got to look others in the face, and of course who would come to your banquet.

To continue to gain higher honor, you would try to invite people of slightly higher honor rating than yourself.

Jesus invites the Pharisee to act differently. He encourages the Pharisee to act against his interest in working to gain higher honor. He tells him to invite those who would have the lowest honor: the poor, crippled, lame and blind.

Jesus uses a reference to the great banquet. This is an image of the fulness of the reign of God. (See Isaiah 25 for more.) Jesus says that inviting these folk to the banquet is what really honors God, and therefore what God will honor when the great banquet happens.

In saying this, Jesus challenges not just the honor of the Pharisee, but every guest in the place who is participating in competition for honor.

Jesus saw that such a competition has a terrible effect: it locks everyone into behaving in accordance to the status quo.

But Jesus points out that the status quo in which 85% are poor and in which the crippled and lame and blind are blamed for being sinful is in fact not God's intention for creation. He challenged everyone in that room to begin acting out of what is truly honorable: to build a society where no one is poor and where those who are in pain are accompanied and honored for what their experience.

He challenges us, too:

  • How often do we behave in appropriate ways that keep us silent to injustice?
  • How often to we place our reputation before love?
  • How often do we look down on those who speak such inappropriate love?