Pentecost 12, 1.9.19
Text: Luke 14.1 – 14
Revd Paul Cannon
When you first read this passage it reads as if Jesus is just offering practical moral advice with an anticipated heavenly reward. But that is not the case.
Jesus uses two words to suggest something deeper is going on.
Δοχη (doxe) is rarely used in the New Testament, only twice, and both times in Luke. When this word is used in the Old Testament it is used to refer to banquets put on by Persian kings.
Whereas δοχα (doxa) meaning glory, a common word in scripture is used here to mean honour. It is not a word usually associated with mortals. And in fact, the last time this word was used in Luke was when the angels announced Jesus’ birth.
So, these two words are out of place, and hints that this is no ordinary meal that Jesus is talking about. It seems to be speaking about the feast of the humbled yet exalted one and he is the one to whom honour will be given. So he is giving a twist on the banquet of Persian Kings to be a meal that exalts the humbled one.
Well you need to grasp that Jesus is talking about how we conduct ourselves as his followers.
Jesus uses the setting of a meal to speak to how the kingdom works.
We often think of Jesus the comforter, but in Luke we get Jesus the confronter, and especially in this encounter.
On the way to the meal, Jesus encounters a man with dropsy, which probably refers to him having oedema. This is a sabbath day and the issue was whether Jesus should heal on the sabbath. He gets in first, and asks the religious elite whether or not it is lawful to heal on the sabbath, and then gives them reason why it is lawful, a challenge to the order and privilege they claim.
Jesus then proceeds to the meal.
Now in those days where you were seated said a lot about your status, and the seating was always intentional at such banquets.
If you wanted the best match for a son or daughter you placed the prospective in-laws at the top of the table. If you wanted to influence a business deal you put the targeted dealer at the top, and so on.
Jesus confronts his host.
At this meal the guests were choosing the places of honour! And Jesus tells a parable to speak into this moment. Essentially, Jesus is saying how dare you be so presumptuous and rude as to sit where you choose. You should wait to see where the host has chosen to seat you.
So Jesus speaks to the cultural behaviour, he neither condemns nor condones, but rather he asks that those who engage in it do so with humility, which would be countercultural to the prevailing attitudes.
The parable is not about cultural dinners, it is about humility, how we as disciples need to adopt humility as our way of being.
This brings to mind Matthew 20.20 when the mother of James and John requested that Jesus let her sons sit on his left and right in the kingdom. Which misses the point because the kingdom is now and Jesus was not about her version of a status kingdom, he was modelling a service kingdom. There will be no moving up the table of social status in the kingdom because there is no table, there is no left and right to sit at.
Or as in James 2.1 – 13 which teaches us that partiality is not to be a part of how we live and behave.
It also recalls the model that Jesus set in washing his disciples’ feet, that we are here to serve each other, that is the true kingdom value, not where you sit at the table.
In essence it is the washing of feet that tells us that there are no higher places at Jesus’ table. The corollary is also true, that if everyone at the table were truly humble, there would be no positioning anyway, it wouldn’t exist.
Jesus then chides his host and those would-be hosts around the table.
He says: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.”
This goes to motive, it’s easy to invite these people, they’re family and friends. The underlying question is where is humility in this, where are the kingdom values of service,?
And so Jesus goes on to shock his host and fellow guests by saying: “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” True humility would be to invite those who would never be invited, nor could they return the favour or boost your status.
At a deeper level, this exchange is about how the kingdom works. We learn in the gospels that Jesus has no hierarchy, has no favoured positions at the table, does not court wealth or the wealthy, and does not play games to get what he wants.
What Jesus sets out here is that kingdom behaviour or disciple behaviour is to set aside those aspirations that are about living in such a way that we forget the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
Inviting the socially unacceptable is a true test of our motives and service attitudes, it would be real. To invite those we know and love is no great effort, and may not even be appreciated, but to invite the lowest of society is to include those who can only offer gratitude.
Which is in fact a picture of salvation. We can offer nothing to God in return for eternal life, we cannot gain a position on the left or the right, we cannot gain special favour, there are no side entrances. God invites everyone to the kingdom.
It is too, a picture of the kingdom now, the community of Jesus, whether we are gathered for communion or a normal meal, all should be invited. Doubly, if we are blessed if we invite everyone, then if everyone is inviting then everyone is blessed, I wonder what that would look like?
In this teaching Jesus makes it clear that you cannot influence your way into the kingdom because everyone is invited, which cancels out any game plan. There is no exclusive club or process, you just turn up. And it relies on us to be open to all, we should never presume that there are exclusions or privileges.
This is a challenging teaching because it calls us to step out of our comfort and our ideals and see the world with new eyes, that everyone is valued by God and therefore everyone is welcome in the kingdom both today and eternally.
This is the kingdom, the everlasting banquet, the glorious banquet where we honour each other.
What does your invite list look like?
Pentecost 11, 25.8.19
Text: Luke 13.10 – 17.
Revd Paul Cannon
What a wonderful story of liberation.
This devoted woman, comes to the synagogue, the place of meeting and takes her place among others of her community. It is possible she came to hear Jesus because Jesus was known everywhere he went, the word was always out.
But it was the Sabbath, and perhaps this was her custom.
Jesus was teaching, as he regularly did on the Sabbath. And as this woman comes in, Jesus sees her. It would be hard not to notice her by Luke’s description. She was bent over, we bend from the waist. The Greek states that she was bent together, which means she was bent nearly double We know this condition to be kyphosis (κυφωση) which is still the term we use today.
She doesn’t come to Jesus for help, he calls her over to him and immediately heals her. Jesus must have felt compassion for this woman to call her over. “Woman you are set free form your ailment.” And she stands up straight praising God, well who wouldn’t?
In ancient times healing was considered work, and the Sabbath laws stated that no work was to be done on the Sabbath. Well that’s not entirely true, the Sabbath laws said that animal husbandry needed to be carried out, midwifery, emergency help, and more. So it wasn’t quite true that work couldn’t be done, it was general work that should be set aside.
The synagogue leader butts in on Jesus complaining about healing on the Sabbath. He is obviously a legalist, a rule follower. He tries to draw the crowd in: “There are six days on which work ought to be done, come on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.”
Well he has assumed this woman came to get healing from Jesus. But she didn’t, Jesus called her to him in order to heal her. How often do we get things wrong by making assumptions like this leader has done?
Jesus then takes him to task over his claim about working on the Sabbath. “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water?” And so those gathered to support the leader are publicly, though positively shamed by Jesus.
He also redeems this woman in a particular way, he reminds the crowd that this woman is a daughter of Abraham. Now the religious leaders were all enamoured with Abraham as the great patriarch of the people of Israel. Jesus is reminding these religious people that this woman has equal status with them, and that she deserves to be set free as are all children of Abraham, even on the Sabbath day.
Hasn’t the Church in the past made a fundamentalism out of Sundays? In times not too distant past the playgrounds were locked, shops were shut, and activity forbidden on Sundays. So before we become indignant about this religious leader and his supporters let’s look at ourselves.
There is a delightful play in this passage. The woman comes in bent over from the condition that afflicts her and is set free. The Synagogue leader is one who would burden people with rules, keep them bent over with servitude and deprivation.
There is a sense in this passage that his indignation at Jesus is also a jealousy and so he lashes out at her. We have to ask ourselves, who do we keep down? Who do we control or want to control? Who are we jealous of and lash out at? And like this man, who do we lash out at using the cover of religious rules?
And there is a sense that this leader is bent over, crippled, by the very empty religion he believes to be so important. He too is bound and needs to be set free. He is spiritually bankrupt but Jesus gives him opportunity to think through his beliefs and his behaviour by teaching him about the law.
We aren’t told if he changes, but Luke does tell us that he and others with him were publicly shamed which indicates that Jesus’ words have at least struck home.
The whole of this is a question of who determines access to God, who makes the rules, who has power. But even more importantly, what is the purpose of the Sabbath?
Jesus makes it clear that the Sabbath was made for people. In healing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, he says it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
And at another time he declares that he is Lord of the Sabbath. Some believe that he is saying he is the author of the Sabbath which would be true, but he is also saying that he is the Sabbath. That’s why in Matthew 11.28 he talks about his yoke being easy and his burden light, because his rest is his presence and purpose in our lives.
The Sabbath is a living thing and not a day, though the day is helpful and also symbolic, it is Jesus who is the real Sabbath who heals and transforms us and gives us real hope.
In another sense we are supposed to live that Sabbath, the love of Jesus to the world, to each other. So Sabbathing is reaching out in compassion as Jesus did for this crippled woman, and it is setting people free as Jesus did for this woman and those in the Synagogue.
How many in our community need healing and setting free? What burdens are people carrying? What burdens are we party to loading onto others? What rules do we cling to instead of living a compassion to others?
I find in this story a clear call for us to see others as children of God, to become people of compassion. We are those called to enable others to stand straight body, mind and spirit. We are the Sabbath the world needs with all the gifts and abilities, not least love, that we have been blessed with.