Sermon Commentary for Sunday, August 28, 2022
Luke 14:1,7-14 Commentary
Jan Richardson describes this text as one of the many that exemplify “the endless wisdom of the table.” Of course, the wisdom comes from how Jesus transforms the space in order to reform the community.
Having just spent time in one last week, the lectionary skips over a Sabbath healing story (verses 2-6) to bring us to a Sabbath meal. Including verse 1 as the introduction sets up an interesting juxtaposition: the Pharisees and Jesus are closely watching each other. The way the Pharisees tend to watch Jesus, though, unfortunately doesn’t usually lead them to receiving his wisdom.
Jesus, on the other hand, tends to lend himself to curiosity and to probing questions and stories that allow people space to explain themselves or explore alternatives. Looking around at the pattern of his fellow guests as they have sat down at the table, Jesus tells them a parable that could have very well played out at their present juncture.
The setting of the parable is one of Jesus’ go-to scenes: a wedding feast. It doesn’t feel all that much like a parable; it reads more like advice to their current situation. But by calling it a parable, Jesus is alerting us to the fact that what he is about to share has deep wisdom that goes beyond just this moment and the characters in the story. He isn’t just telling them what they should have done this time, Jesus is depicting how they should be all the time.
It is interesting to note that “guests” is actually in the form of a Greek perfect participle, literally “those who are invited.” From the very beginning, Luke is underscoring that we are perpetual guests. This is the first point of wisdom from the table: we are always the guest, invited to life and “the table” by the Creator.
As people who know that they are always guests, the second point of table wisdom should not come as a big surprise: it is better to be humble than to assume one’s position or importance in any space where one is the guest. (This is everywhere for us as perpetual guests!) The place of honour was right beside the host. To automatically place yourself at the seat next to the host is a way of saying, “I know that if only one person could be invited to this dinner, our host would want it to be me.” You’re not just saying something about yourself, you’re saying something to everyone else.
And… here’s where Jesus’ story makes the surprise turn: you’re making it so that the host has to say something to you. Awkward! For if there is someone more distinguished and respectable than you, then your host is going to have to humble you in front of everyone. As part of Luke’s great reversal, the “first” becomes last… disgraced, shamed for thinking too highly of his or herself.
Instead of putting ourselves in a position where we have to be told to go sit somewhere else, Jesus tells us to start in that posture. Instead of the place of honour, he tells us to go to the “farthest boundary of an area.” This too, is part of God’s table wisdom.
First, it’s table wisdom because it leaves the opportunity for the host to not disgrace you, but to lift you up, to call you friend and to seek to honour you in the presence of the others who are sharing the table with you by moving you closer to the center of things. This sort of promotion is what happens when we are not self-seeking—not when we are humbled but when we are humble (i.e., have humility).
It’s a lovely and simple story—even if it can be a hard pill to swallow. Taking the posture of humble guests, we may have great blessing and honour heaped upon us. But if we try to push our own grandeur onto others, we will most definitely have humiliating experiences of being shown what people really think of us.
Though we are perpetual guests, Jesus recognizes that we have the power to also be the hosts who invite others to the table. When it comes to life in this world, there are times that we find ourselves as the brokers of influence and belonging. This is why it is important for us to remember another aspect of the table wisdom: if we place ourselves on the boundaries as the guests, then we’ll know the kinds of people we should invite to our own tables.
The way to practice humility as a host is to be generous with one’s invitations. This is the second aspect God’s table wisdom for setting yourself at the furthest boundary: a table of misfits, “nobodies,” people who are themselves in great need and are never going to be in a position to return the favour, they are the ones who ought to be present. If we host with humility, just like we are humble guests, then we will expect nothing but to share the space with others.
Yet so often, as Jesus points out, we choose instead to be with those from whom we will get something in return—whether actual things or opportunities, for a sense of belonging and love. If we invite someone so that next time, when it’s their turn to invite, they will think of us, we’ve already shown that our eyes are on that best seat in the house. In other words, we’re thinking of ourselves in the future even though we’ve got hungry people to serve right here, right now, in our own house and at our own table.
A posture of generosity towards those who will never be able to repay you is not wasted, even if it feels like it is. That’s the last piece of “endless wisdom of the table” from Christ in our text today: generosity, like humility, will be reciprocated by the “host of hosts” when the righteous are raised up. Resurrection is itself is the generous act of God to exalt a humble human being to eternal life.
God’s table wisdom is to not worry about how good of a seat you have right now. God’s table wisdom is to give as many downcast and needful people as possible a good seat of equality and experience right now. God’s table wisdom is to be generous with the life that God has invited you to live and have. God’s table wisdom is to follow his seating chart, trusting that fellowship will occur among a whole of bunch of people who are different because the Spirit weaves them together. God’s table wisdom is to remember that even when we are hosts, we are always his guest.
The perpetual nature of being a guest is further underscored by two other perfect participles. The first is in verse 8, when Jesus says that another, more distinguished person may have been “invited” to attend. The second is in verse 10, when the “host” (literally the one who invited you) comes to tell you to move to a less distinguished seat. All of the perfect participles—for the guest, more distinguished guest, and for the host—are the same Greek verb, “to call; to invite.”
In the pilot episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Midge repeatedly yells inside and outside the 1950s butcher shop as she orders a brisket, “We got the rabbi!” She is excited because rabbi is coming to break his fast on Yom Kippur with her family—a prestigious opportunity among big competition within the synagogue congregation. It’s a good sign to have the rabbi come for dinner; it means that she and her fiancé will likely be able to secure their preferred wedding date with the rabbi. For the family, it’s not just the exaltation they will get from hosting a distinguished guest, it’s what that guest will then give them in return for their hospitality. Would the rabbi coming to dinner be such a big deal if they weren’t looking to get married? Would she make sure she got the kind of lamb cut that the rabbi likes if she didn’t need to secure his favour?
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