ESV Luke 14:1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. 7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in 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 table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Following Jesus to Jerusalem in the book of Luke, last week the topic turned to the eternal kingdom and the few who will be saved.
Today we continue talking about going to heaven and Jesus teaches us with the banquet motif. All of the meals Jesus ate with Pharisees and disciples, his parables about wedding feasts, and the Last Supper itself are really about heaven which is described as a banquet. Today, Jesus teaches us about table etiquette at the banquet. We have rules for proper etiquette at meals such as who to invite, who not to invite, what clothes to wear, the proper seating order at the table, and even the correct way to get in and out of your seat. There are rules for where each and every kind of fork, knife, and spoon imaginable is to be placed on the table and what you are supposed to eat with each one. If you find dinner etiquette confusing, you might want to consider attending the Etiquette Dinner at the University of Missouri this coming November 5th. For only $20 you can enjoy a five course meal while learning when to unfold your napkin, and how to pass items across the table without interrupting someone’s eating. All very useful information.
The Pharisees also had very strict and detailed rules for dinner etiquette. The difference was, their rules were legally binding, and anyone breaking them could be tried and convicted on criminal charges. So this particular Sabbath Jesus went to the house of a ruler of the Pharisees to observe the Sabbath Seder. Many other dignitaries were there as well. He was not just run-of-the-mill Pharisee, he was a ruler, a member of the Sanhedrin. The people at this dinner were the same people who had Jesus arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and placed him on trial that night. Our host this evening may have played an instrumental role in condemning Jesus to death on the cross, and what Jesus did at this Sabbath dinner might well have been one of the charges levied against him before the high priest.
Our text says they were “scrutinizing him closely.” In verse 1. The word in the original language does not mean they were just watching him, rather that they were trying to find a fault with him by which to accuse him. It is first used in Luke chapter 6, when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, and Luke tells us that because of his healing they were trying to find a reason to accuse him in order to get rid of him. In Luke 13 Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath and they were indignant toward him. Now, in this third and final Sabbath miracle recorded by Luke, they were determined to get all the evidence they could to put an end to him.
Verse 2 says, “Behold! A man with dropsy was standing in front of him.” Now that’s a strange statement. “Behold,” there he was! He seems to have suddenly appeared as if Captain Kirk had just beamed him down from the Star Ship Enterprise? Fact is, a person with his ailment was considered unclean. He could not enter the temple to worship, nor could he observe the Sabbath Seder, or even enter the home of a Pharisee. So why was he there? One likely explanation is that he was intentionally brought there by the host in order to entrap Jesus. In other words, this was a sting operation; a set-up. They had had enough of him, now they were putting the final touches on their case in order to bring charges against him on Maundy Thursday night at the home of the high priest.
And Jesus knew exactly what they were up to. That is why before doing anything, he turned to the lawyers and Pharisees and asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” He’s the one who brought up the question, because he knew that is what they were trying to entrap him with. But they remained silent, so he took the man in his hands and healed him. Notice, this is not the sweet, gentle, innocent Jesus we all learned about in Sunday School. This was Jesus in their face! He defied their rules and regulations! For they had become so puffed up with themselves, so proud of guarding their rules, so blinded by their own status and high positions that they were blinded from recognizing the true Lord of the Sabbath right in their own home. Their laws and rules did not allow them to recognize the Lord in their midst. For to taste of Jesus’ banquet means to eat bread in humility alongside the last and the poorest. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. We often confuse this too, when we come up with our own rules and regulations that we try to impose upon others, and even consider it a sin if someone does not obey them, as if our rules had the same status as God’s law. We forget that the reason for rules and procedures is to serve mankind. We are not here to serve the rules. How puffed up we are!
Nor is it insignificant that the same word in verse 4 that says, “Jesus let the man go,” meaning setting him free, is also used by Luke for forgiveness of sins, as when Jesus sets us free from our sins. So healing is proper Sabbath etiquette. The Sabbath is the day of salvation when God saves his people. The Sabbath Seder is the observation of the Exodus when God delivered his people out from bondage. There is no better day to release men from bondage to sin and death than the Sabbath, and this is reflected in our worship being on a day set apart for a day of rest and worship. The day set aside for worship is the day that the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it! (Psalm).
Jesus then completely overturned their self-righteousness by asking, “Which one of you, if your son or oxen falls into a well, would not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath?” They could not answer him or refute him. Thus he established his claim to be the Lord of the Sabbath.
Now begins the dinner proper. The overall theme of our text is eating the banquet in heaven. This is the fourth of seven dinners that Luke records for us, and at every one of them there was some sort of problem. In the first, Jesus broke the rules by eating with publicans and sinners in the home of Levi. In the second Jesus broke the rules by forgiving sins, something which only God should do, in the third Jesus broke the rules by not washing his hands and now in the fourth dinner he broke the rules about not healing on the Sabbath. Then he begins his lesson on dinner etiquette. Since the dinners Jesus attended all portray the banquet in the kingdom of God, Jesus’ rules of etiquette are the rules for God’s kingdom; the rules that his people follow.
Having noticed how as they entered they all were choosing the “first seats,” meaning, the seats of greater honor and prestige, he teaches a lesson on humility. Everyone wanted to be the greatest. Everyone wanted the positions of higher status. Just like us today. In the church, at work, even in the home, we all want to be boss. We covet the positions of greater status and authority. So bent are we on having more honor and authority, that we sinfully lord it over others.
But this shall not be in the kingdom of heaven. If you choose the higher seats, the host, which is God, will bring you to shame and on the day of judgment will make you go down to the lowest seat. But for those who are humble and choose the seats of least honor, God will bring you up and exalt you, bringing you glory and praise in his kingdom. For “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of humble estate.” Table etiquette in God’s kingdom is humility and service. But we, by our desire to be first and have the higher positions, break the rules of God’s etiquette constantly. We always seem to behave in ways contrary to God’s law.
But Jesus is giving more than a classroom lecture. Humility first and foremost, describes Jesus himself. It was Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, who took the lowest seat. It is Jesus who humbles himself and makes himself the last; who became the servant of all, and humbled himself by becoming one of us, to absorb our sin and infirmities into his own flesh, and suffer the shame and torment of death on a cross. All this he did so that the host of heaven’s banquet would come to us and say, “Friend, come up to a higher seat.” Jesus humbled himself completely, unto death, in order that we might be exalted. He suffered our shame, so that we could receive his glory in heaven. By his humility he atoned for our pride and our sin of self-exaltation.
Then Jesus teaches the host: when you invite people to a banquet, don’t invite your friends or relatives, or rich neighbors who can pay you back. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the outcast; people who cannot pay you back, and you will be blessed, because you will be paid back at the resurrection. The poor, the crippled, the outcast include the one Jesus healed. By healing him, Jesus reversed the normal table etiquette. By taking the last seat in society and going to the cross, Jesus reverses the normal etiquette. To the heavenly banquet he invites repentant sinners, the poor, and those despised by society—us. It is people like us whom Jesus invites to his banquet. That is what kept getting him in trouble with the Pharisees beginning with his first banquet when he ate with publicans and sinners. Now he tells them they should invite the outcasts of society who they considered unclean and not party to them at their table fellowship. God’s rule is the rule of love and forgiveness.
Fact is, we are the ones who have failed at proper table etiquette. Those whom Jesus invites are the ones we don’t want to invite, whom we don’t want to come into our church. Those whom we look down on are precisely the ones Jesus tells us to bring. God’s banquet hall in heaven will be filled with the lowly, the poor, the repentant sinners. It will be filled with foreigners from other countries, with the weak and unhealthy and elderly and crippled, with all people for whom Jesus died.
But, where are they? They are the ones God invites. Why have we not invited them to dine with us at the Lord’s Table? Are there none around us? Are the homes in our neighborhood, next door, across the street all empty? Where are the people God has invited? As long as we take the higher seats at the banquet, and covet the positions of honor, then we will not be invited.
Turns out, we are the sinners. We are the ones who have sinned by our pride. Repent and turn from our sinful ways. For it is the sinner who repents that Jesus invites to his banquet. When we recognize that we are sinners and repent, our names are placed on the invitation list. Thanks be to God that he invites the sinner, the outcast, the poor, because that means he invites us. Because Jesus humbled himself and made himself the least of all; because Jesus took the lowest seat, the one nailed to a cross, because he eats and drinks with sinners, we are on the invitation list and will be included in the banquet in heaven.
Praise and thanks be unto God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.