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TABLE MANNERS: Luke 14:7-14 (1-24)

July 4, 2004

by Mark Horne

Copyright © 2004

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. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

Who do you invite to a party? Who do you have over for dinner in your house?

These are important questions to Jesus, but we may not understand why. I hope I can give you a few hints as to why they are so essential. Often, when we don’t understand someone, it isn’t because we can’t read his words, but because we have forgotten the wider context. What is the wider context?

Food is one of the central questions in religion and philosophy.

In food, you are confronted with your finitude and dependence. You are not autonomous and self-sustaining. Rather, you need help from outside yourself to survive.

So you have a choice. One wrong option is to reject food and other creaturly needs in some way. People in various religions who starve themselves and live in rigid discipline and, perhaps, devote themselves to otherworldly meditation, are pursuing this form of idolatry. But in its less austere form there are many religions that claim we are somehow supposed to transcend nature by some kind of “spiritual” discipline or process.

The other way to respond to the challenge of food is to idolize it. When pagans worship nature rather than the transcendant God who made and sustains nature, they are making a statement about food—that it gives life in itself which we somehow extract from it.

It is interesting that one of the major laws given not only to Israel, but to Noah as the father of all humanity, was that he was never to drink blood or eat meat with the blood still in it. Why not? Because the life is in the blood and God wanted people to know that they did not get life from anything in nature, not even blood, but from God himself. Indeed, in the wilderness, whenever the Israelites slaughtered an animal for a meal they were required to pour the blood out on the altar. Every meal was a sacrifice of atonement, showing that life did not come primarily from nature, but from God—and that a right relationship with God is essential.

The pagans on the other hand, while admitting their dependence on the gods, tried to use food as a way of making the gods themselves dependent on them. They believed their sacrifices fed the gods the food they needed, so they could imagine that they really were in some sort of equal arrangement. In one of the pagan myths of the near-east there is a version of the flood story. In that tale, when the Noah-figure gets off the ark, and offers a sacrifice, the gods are said to be so hungry that they swarm on it “like flies.” The god who caused the flood is repudiated because by threatening the human race he threatened the source of food for the gods.

Modern forms of atheism have made statements about food as well. Feurbach, was an atheist philosopher who insisted that everything about us could be explained simply by material causes. We were merely the products of nature, not of any Spiritual forces. And he explained this using a slogan about food: “Man is what he eats.” A person can be explained as simply a composite of the things growing out of the dirt that he has ingested and the animal carcasses he has consumed. But the fact is that this atheist was not entirely wrong. As one theologian writes:

“Man is what he eats.” With this statement the German materialistic philosopher Feurbach thought that he had put an end to all “idealistic” speculations about human nature. In fact, however, he was expressing without knowing it the most religious idea of man. For long before Feurbach the same definition of man was given by the Bible. In the biblical story of creation man is presented, first of all, as a hungry being, and the whole world as his food. Second only to the direction to propagate and have dominion over the earth, according to the author of the first chapter of Genesis, is God’s instruction to men to eat of the earth: “Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed … and every tree which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat…” Man must eat in order to live; he must take the world into his body and transform it into himself, into flesh and blood. He is indeed that which he eats, and the whole world is presented as one all-embracing banquet table for man. And this image of the banquet remains, throughout the whole Bible, the central image of life. It is the image of life at its creation and also the image of life at its end and fulfillment: “…that you eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom.”

It should not surprise us that the Bible gives so much attention to food. The origin of sin is explained in terms of a wrong decision about food. God discipled the Israelites in the wilderness by regulating their food. The manna, remember, fell on six days only. On five of those days they could only gather enough to that one day and anything left over became useless. But on the sixth day they could gather for two days and it would last.

The kingdom of God is described as a place of special food. The Promised Land is described as a land flowing with milk and honey. The book of Revelation speaks of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. In this passage we read, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

Indeed, this very Gospel emphasizes the role of the dinner table in the nature of the Kingdom. Luke has given us a great deal about food and eating. Jesus is laid in an animal feeding trough at his birth. Later, he eats and drinks with sinners in Levi’s house and defends his practice by telling a parable that points to his healing of the paralytic and his forgiving of his sins. That is common to two other Gospels with Luke, but Luke also gives us another account of Jesus at a meal in which he again forgives a sinner in language that reminds us of the healing of the paralytic. Like other Gospels there are a series of arguments about food, but Luke adds to those that Jesus ended up condemning the Pharisees and Lawyers when invited to eat with them and to be judged by them.

And here in our passage this morning we are again at a table, at a meal. This conflict over proper dinner etiquette will continue in this chapter into the next chapter. As we will see, God willing, the story of the Prodigal Son is a continuation of the same issue. And finally, at the last Supper it is Luke who gives us the more elaborate record than the other Gospels:

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

In Luke 14.1-6, which we covered last week, we see Jesus being invited to a meal in order to be tested. They are watching him closely. After dealing with the Sabbath healing, Jesus decides to expound on the meaning of the Kingdom of God as a great banquet.

He begins, in verses 7-11, giving some wisdom regarding how we should act at parties as dinner guests: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” As general wisdom this has a great deal of application. We are quite prone to think that our advancement in the world depends entirely on our own aggressive self-promotion. The constant danger we fear is that our talents will be overlooked and that our worth will be under-valued. If they are under-valued then it is up to us to do something about it.

One of the interesting consequences of this view is that when we see someone who is overlooked or under-valued, instead of feeling obligated to help him, we rather assume that he must be in fault in some way for not promoting himself. The Bible gives us a far different ethic. It promises that God sees and will recognize each person who trusts him and who in that trust follows God’s calling for his life. Proverbs 22.29: “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.”

And by the way, Jesus makes it clear that this is not an automatic grant that everyone will be recognized. The advice about sitting lower than others at the table so that the host promotes you is connected to the exhortation to invite the poor and strangers to dine with you. And there Jesus says, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” So men and women will be recognized perhaps in this life but certainly in the next if they entrust themselves to Jesus rather than attempting to promote themselves. Remember: Jesus, we are told in verse 7, was speaking a parable. He doesn’t really want people coming up with a method of manipulating the situation so that the host at a feast publicly honors them. After all, Jesus goes on to tell them not to invite important people. He doesn’t want the host to publicly move the more important guests more closer to his place. He wants people to reject self-promotion because they really trust God to take care of them.

But the lack of faith which Jesus saw demonstrated at that banquet, was not only simply a matter of personal wisdom for living. It was that, but it was also much more and much more serious. As a parable Jesus is not simply commenting on how a few individuals act at a party. Rather, he is using this opportunity to speak about Israel as a whole. This is made clear in verses 15-24 in the parable of the great banquet, which we will consider in more detail next week. But I will mention now that the parable is aimed at showing how Israel is going to be cast from the Kingdom while the nations are given the Gospel. Israel is refusing the wedding feast and the nations will be brought in. Look at verses 23 and 24: “And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” Now compare that with what Jesus warned of in Luke 13.25ff, which we read last week:

When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” then he will answer you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.

This parable is the same warning. Israel will miss the kingdom and the nations will get it. And Israel will lose her place in the kingdom precisely because she keeps others out. We’ve already seen this over and over again regarding “sinners”—that is, people who did not keep themselves ritually pure like the Pharisees did. Jesus welcomed them and the Pharisees objected.

But this would also apply to the Gentiles. Remember how Jesus began his ministry in Luke 4.22-29? After reading Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus declared that the Scripture was fulfilled in himself.

And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.

The idea of God not giving first place to Israel was hateful to Israelites. So this is the verdict: God appointed Israel to be a light to the world, but Israel thought the light was only for themselves—or even only for a few within Israel. Taking Israel’s vocation on himself, as Israel’s king and representative, Jesus came as the light of the world but men loved darkness rather than light. They would not welcome others to their table. Jesus wanted Israel to repent and resume her calling by being a feasting place for all the nations. When Jesus did what Israel was supposed to do they accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax gatherers and sinners.

And that’s the point of food. It is a means of fellowship. Sitting at a meal is what two friends do. It means we are reconciled. That’s why God now eats and drinks with us in the Lord’s supper.

So what are we suppose to be? We are to be to others, what God in Christ is to us right now at this table. He has invited us to sit at thrones at his table. How can we not show that hospitality to others?

Remember, the meal is still the central issue even after Jesus is gone. In Acts, when Peter was told by God to go preach the Gospel it was a vision of animals he was to eat that told him he must enter the house of a Gentile. He was accused of not only baptizing these believers, but of eating with them. Later, under pressure from some, Peter stopped eating with Gentile Christians. In Galatians 2 we read that Paul confronted him to his face for “not being straightforward about the truth of the Gospel.” Refusing table fellowship is that serious. On the other hand, in First Corinthians 5, Paul commands Christians not even to eat with a person who claims to be a believer who is in flagrant rebellion against God’s commands.

Jesus’ ministry of table fellowship is still relevant today, to the New Testament Church. That’s why it is so wrong to make the Lord’s Supper only available to baptized Christians who have mastered a catechism or come to agree with complex doctrinal formulations that are not absolutely necessary for a person to count as a Christian. This is the table for all God’s people.

And the personal application of this table is: Go thou and do likewise.

Who do you invite to a party? Who do you have over for dinner in your house?

Copyright © 2004

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