Intro to Reading
Three weeks ago, we read about Jesus at a meal with a tax collector. The Jewish people had a gracious system to provide public revenue for widows, orphans and the homeless. They had tithes and land tax, but so-called “tax collectors” were people who went outside that system and disgracefully collaborated with the foreign Roman Empire. The tax collector was someone who needed divine grace and he found it in a meal with Jesus.
Two weeks ago we read of Jesus at a meal with a sinner. The Jewish people had a communal process for forgiving sins. They had scapegoats and temple sacrifices. But so-called “sinners” were people who were excluded from the worshipping community. Maybe they were too poor to buy the right animal sacrifices, or they were unclean because they had the wrong kind of marital relations. The “sinner” was someone who needed divine community and she found it in a meal with Jesus.
One week ago we read of Jesus at a meal with a hungry multitude in the wilderness. The Jews had a hopeful story of God providing manna for hungry people in the wilderness. But the multitude needed to learn again what it meant to stop being enslaved to the selfish economy of scarcity and freely enter the abundance of the Kingdom of God. The hungry multitude needed divine hope and they found it in a meal with Jesus.
And so today we turn to Luke 14 to hear once more of Jesus at a meal. Today the focus is not Jesus eating with those from another land, those who had sex with the wrong people, or those who were enslaved by the economy. Today the focus is on Jesus eating with someone who had the right passport, the right bank account and the right family connections. What does it look like when power, money and dynasty are invited to take a seat at the table with Jesus?
Gospel Reading Luke 14 selected verses
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had oedema. And Jesus took him and healed him and sent him away. Then he said to them, “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?”And they could not reply to this.
When Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner, he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So, the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, give us ears to hear, eyes to see, mouths to savour, and hands to share the feast of your good news. Amen.
This is a complicated reading with a lot of things going on. We heard of a meal with Jesus, a miracle by Jesus, a protest against Jesus and a parable from Jesus. I don’t have enough answers to preach four sermons. What I do have is some good questions, so today I want to briefly touch on all four: the meal, the miracle, the protest and the parable. And for each one, pose a question to help us live out this gospel in our lives.
- A Meal with Jesus
Jesus didn’t eat only with tax collectors and sinners. He didn’t eat only in the wilderness and on the beach. He also ate in people’s homes and in some of the nicest homes on the street. He shared with the poor and the rich. He sat with people who were ritually unclean and religious zealots.
In Luke 14 Jesus is eating with a Pharisee, and not just any Pharisee he is dining with the leader of the party. Not just in any place but in his home. Pharisees considered their homes more pure than the temple. And it was not just any day but on the Sabbath day the most holy day of the week.
If the story was set in Sydney, we might say he wasn’t just dining on the North Shore he was a guest at Kirribilli House on Australia Day. I’m not sure what the Melbourne equivalent is – Jesus was drinking with Kennett or McGuire in the members at the G? Maybe catching a helicopter to Lindsay Fox’s place at Portsea?
Question: Who is a privileged person you can imagine hosting Jesus? Who is a powerful, richest, or well-connected person and where do you think they would take Jesus for a meal at what event?
- Miracle by Jesus
In the Gospel, a miracle is never just a miracle. If a person was sick one day and well another, it would be welcome relief for them, but that alone was never a reason to give it a write-up in the Bible.
The stories of Jesus’ healings and exorcisms are included in our Bibles as signs. They signify the transformations that occur when God’s Kingdom comes, and they are included so that we too might have faith in Jesus.
Whenever we read a story of Jesus healing a blind man, we can find connections to other people in the story who are blind to the work God is doing in the world. The miracle is a sign that Jesus can heal our spiritual blindness. No one is trying to say literally that if I need to wear glasses, I have less faith than any of you – but we can make a figurative connection.
So what about Oedema? In older translations it used to say “Dropsy”. I was ignorant and thought it was kind of limp. Oedema can be disabling but it is a particular type of condition. Swelling. Our bodies are meant to have fluid, but a foot with oedema is retaining so much fluid it is bloated and unhealthy.
Question: What is something that bloats your life?
It could even be something that is a good thing to have in moderation but if we retain it, if we cling on to it too tightly, it gets in the way of following Jesus and the kind of abundant life that he wants us to live?
- The Protest
After the miracle, Jesus starts talking to the guests about all their children and cows; their wells and their religion; their social standing and patronage.
It is good to have families and farms. It is good to have friends and holidays. But these people were holding on to so much money and power, so many connections and privileges, they were suffering spiritually oedema. Jesus wanted to heal them of the privileges that were bloating their lives and getting in the way of participating in the radically inclusive reign of God.
Jesus said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” In the upside-down values of God’s Kingdom, it is the humble who are blessed. And just in case the other guests didn’t get it, Jesus turns to his host and spells it out with examples: it is” the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” who will be blessed to eat bread in the kingdom of God.
Now one of the guests feels threatened by Jesus. He protests: “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
I am reminded of reactions to the “BlackLivesMatter” movement. People responding to police brutality and ethnic violence cried out for justice saying, “our black lives matter”. But powerful people who feared that their privilege was being threatened protested: “All lives matter”. As American civil rights activist Alicia Garza explained “BlackLivesMatter” doesn’t mean your life isn’t important – it means that Black lives, which are devalued within white supremacy, are important to your liberation.
Jesus is telling the people with seats at the table – their liberation depends on the poor and crippled. Those bloated with privilege need the powerless and marginalised if they are to be healed of their spiritual oedema.
Question: When was the last time you gave up a privilege?
- The Parable
The Gospel of humility says you find life when you learn “marginalised people’s matter” But privilege protests indignantly “I matter!” How does Jesus respond to that?
Jesus tells a parable about what it looks like when people swollen with retained privilege are invited to a meal with Jesus.
We could listen to the parable, tentatively sip at it like a bowl of comforting chicken soup and wish to go home warm and fuzzy that somewhere somebody is doing some nice charity work for those poor people.
Or we could chew on the parable like the hot, spicy and hard to swallow mouthful that it is, as we let God’s word expose the truth about our attitudes to power, money and connections.
In the parable those who have bought land, those who own many oxen, those with good families, all give excuses as to why they shouldn’t be coming to this feast. Jesus sadly concludes: “none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’
What it comes down to is, will we follow Jesus and invite the poor to our meals, or not?
To paraphrase Tim Chester, Jesus came eating and drinking and sharing fellowship that demonstrated how God’s way was grace, not patronage and reciprocity. Jesus was creating a new counter cultural society, a divine kingdom, in the midst of the old Empire based on power and abuse of power. The words and actions of Jesus collapsed the distance between rich and poor, insider and outsider, privileged and powerless.
Question: Who will we invite to eat with us this week? If there is anything that stops us.