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Luke 14:1-24

Lesson Focus

Jesus calls us to reorient our priorities, commitments, and allegiances to be in line with God’s already but not yet Kingdom.

Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Gain a better understanding of the honor/shame culture of Jesus’ world.

  2. Be encouraged to live humbly in our world.

  3. Be encouraged to reorient our priorities, commitments, and allegiances to be in line with God’s already but not yet Kingdom.

Some Context

Today’s text comes to us in two scenes. At first glance, they may seem unconnected, but they aren’t. In the first scene, Jesus is dining with a local group of Pharisees. It’s the sabbath; they have just finished at the local synagogue, and it is time for lunch. Again, Jesus heals someone on the Sabbath. This provides him with an opportunity to continue to teach.

Scene two reminds us that Jesus is on a journey. Ultimately, he is headed to Jerusalem, where he will die. But we aren’t there just yet. There are large crowds with Jesus as he is on his way. Some are disciples, and some have just come to see if all the hype about Jesus is true.

The first scene revolves around table fellowship. The second scene is a commentary on the first scene. What is Jesus trying to communicate to us through these two scenes?

In short, the world as we know it now is upside down. That is, it's not oriented in the right manner. Or, if you prefer, it is backward.

Upside down or backward to what, you might ask? The Kingdom of God. The way things are supposed to be. This has been and will continue to be Luke’s narrative purpose, helping us to see the world as it really should be, the world through Jesus’ eyes.

Scene One - Luke 14:1-6

The first scene takes place on the Sabbath at the home of a Pharisee, presumably, after they had all been to the synagogue.

We must remember that the Pharisees were out to get Jesus. Luke tells us they were “watching him closely.” In the same way politicians today want to dig up dirt on their political opponents; the Pharisees wanted dirt on Jesus. Jesus is not an honored guest.

As Jesus and the Pharisees arrived at the house where they were to eat the meal, a man with dropsy appeared.

What is the world is dropsy? It is a generic term for almost any disease that refers to bodily swelling due to excess fluid. Think congestive heart failure, where fluid builds up around the heart, making it harder for the heart to function. Or kidney disease. The man's sudden appearance seems like a trap to me. The Pharisees are out to get Jesus, and low and behold, a sick man shows up at a dinner party on the sabbath where Jesus was. Sounds fishy. Perhaps the ill man had been invited by the host Pharisee to see if Jesus would, once again, heal on the Sabbath.

What will Jesus do? The man's arrival prompts Jesus to ask, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?”

I think Jesus knew what the Pharisees were thinking. Being strict followers of the letter of the law, the Pharisees would not have done anything that would have looked like work on the Sabbath. In their book, healing counted as work. But they remained silent.

So, Jesus healed the man and sent him away. After he had dismissed the healed man, Jesus said, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?”

In other words, life trumps the law. Saving life trumps the law. Giving life trumps the law.

Deep down inside, the Pharisees know Jesus is right, so they say nothing.

Scene Two - Luke 14:7-14

Well, that’s an awkward start to a dinner party! I'm afraid that the awkwardness doesn’t get any better; rather, it gets worse. Despite Jesus’ miraculous powers, he is a lousy invitation.

The guests have all arrived at the home of the Pharisee throwing the party, and they begin to take their places at the table. Now, to understand what is happening here, you must understand a little about the day's culture. Dinner parties like this were major social events. You gave a dinner and invited people whose presence at your home would bring you honor and elevate your social status and standing in the community. It was also expected that the dinner invitation would be reciprocated. This is a very high school cafeteria-type move. Not only that but where you sat at the table was important. The closer you were to the host, the more honor was given to you, making you more important than the other guests seated farther away from the host.

So Jesus, the insightful guy he is, begins to notice how everyone is jockeying for a place of honor at the table. Now, I know you all have never done this, hurriedly made your way through a crowd, elbowing others out of your way so that you could get closer to someone who will elevate your social status. Watching all this jockeying take place, Jesus begins to speak. Jesus’ words are more than just social advice; they are a glimpse into how Jesus understands the kingdom. But more on that later. When you are invited to a party, Jesus says, don’t take the highest place of honor available. It may be that the host has someone else in mind for that spot. If you are sitting in a spot above your position in society, the host may come and ask you to move to a lower place, in front of everyone, no less! How embarrassing!

Instead, Jesus advises, take a lower seat. Then, when the host notices you sitting in a place beneath your status, he will elevate you in front of everyone. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. This isn’t how Jesus’ world worked. It's not how our world works, either. It is how God’s Kingdom works. But Jesus is not done speaking, not by a long shot. He turns to the Pharisee who invited him and tells him that the next time he hosts a dinner, he shouldn’t invite those who will invite him back. No, he is to invite those who cannot repay his hospitality. He is to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind!

Do you know how disastrous this would be for any person of social standing in Jesus’ day? It would be ruinous. Social suicide! You cannot go around blessing those who cannot bless you back! At this last statement, one of the dinner guests comments, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This guest has not quite grasped what Jesus is saying, so Jesus tries to make it clearer with a story.

Scene Three - Luke 14:15-24

This is scene three. Jesus begins telling a story about a well-to-do host who sent out invitations for a dinner party. Traditionally, a host would send out invitations well before the party. Then, when everything was ready, servants would be sent to inform the guests that they should begin to arrive.

On this occasion, the host sent out the second round of invitations only to be rebuffed by those who had previously said they would attend. The would-be guests offer up excuse after excuse. One just bought a piece of land. Another, a yoke of oxen. Still, another just got married.

Obviously, the host becomes upset at the refusal of the guests to attend. They have heaped shame and more shame on him and his household. The host will not be stopped. He has had enough of the honor/shame culture. He is going off on his own. So, he instructs his servant to go out into the town and bring in all the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame - all those who could never reciprocate his hospitality. When that was done, and there was still room for more, the servant was sent out again to gather in anyone who could be found so that the host's house was filled. Here the scene comes to a close.

So What…?

What does this all mean? Should we have more dinner parties? Probably. Should we automatically assume that we are honored guests at a party? Yes. Don’t reject an invitation, or else you will not get invited to the next party. Maybe.

The answer comes in the next section, verses 25-33. The scene has changed, and Luke reminds us that Jesus is traveling again, with large crowds with him. Shockingly, he says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

What in the world? To this point, Jesus has been all about loving our neighbor as ourselves. What's with the hate business?

In Jesus’ day, those family relationships were the most important relationships ever. They defined who you were and your place in society. Without your family, you were nothing, a nobody. In this context, hate does not mean what we normally mean by that word. Rather, what Jesus is getting at here is that to be a true disciple, one must disavow one's primary allegiances. In other words, for Jesus, discipleship is about to whose culture you belong.

One commentator notes, “…so here Jesus is calling for the reconstruction of one’s identity, not along ancestral lines or on the basis of one’s social status, but within the new community oriented toward God’s purpose and characterized by faithfulness to the message of Jesus.” (Green, 565). In other words, to be a disciple is to allow our identity to be shaped by the new order, the kingdom of God, rather than the old order. Jesus ends the section by saying, “So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Jesus is not necessarily talking about selling everything, though maybe he is. What I think Jesus is getting at is our priorities, our commitments, and our allegiances. Where are our priorities? Where are our commitments? To whom do we swear our allegiance? If the answer to these questions is not, “Jesus Christ and his already but not yet fully established Kingdom,” then we’d better reevaluate things.

Discussion Questions

Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. In the first scene, a man with dropsy approaches Jesus and some Pharisees on their way to dinner on the Sabbath. Was the presence of the man with dropsy a trap set by the Pharisees? If so, why would they seek to set that trap?

  2. Jesus asks the religious leaders, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” Why do you think Jesus asked this question if he already knew he would heal the man?

  3. What do you make of the Pharisee’s silence in verse 6?

  4. The second scene, beginning in verse 7, finds the group sitting down to dinner. Apparently, people are jockeying seats of honor at the table. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? How did you act? Did some in your group gain greater honor by being seated next to an important person?

  5. Reread verses 8-11. What do you make of Jesus’ advice? Does it make sense to act that way? If so, why? If not, why?

  6. Why would Jesus want us to invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind to our next dinner party?

  7. The final scene is a parable that Jesus tells. What does the parable mean? How might it be connected to the two other scenes in this section?

  8. What is God calling us to do?

  9. Who is God calling us to become? <