One Sabbath, when Jesus went to share a meal in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely. A man suffering from an abnormal swelling of the body was there. Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Does the Law allow healing on the Sabbath or not?” But they said nothing. Jesus took hold of the sick man, cured him, and then let him go. He said to them, “Suppose your child or ox fell into a ditch on the Sabbath day. Wouldn’t you immediately pull it out?” But they had no response.
When Jesus noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a parable. “When someone invites you to a wedding celebration, don’t take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than you could have been invited by your host. The host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give your seat to this other person.’ Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the least important place. Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
Then Jesus said to the person who had invited him, “When you host a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.”
The lectionary leaves out verses 2-6, but I retained them because I feel they’re important to the story Luke is telling. This is especially true if we see what Jesus says as a commentary to what Jesus does. In that way, his statements about honoring oneself is even more profound.
In the first story Jesus tells (verses 7-11), he talks about people who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be honored. He tells this story based on what he’s seeing at the table. But it’s also seen in the act of healing the man. While all of the people are concerned about exalting themselves -- rushing in and getting the proper seat at the table -- no one even noticed the diseased ridden man. And when they did, they weren’t concerned for him; they wanted to see what Jesus would do. Jesus’ question, “Does the law allow healing on the Sabbath, or not?” shows us the intent of their hearts. They wanted to trap Jesus. They wanted to prove that they were “better” than he was; that they were superior to him and everyone else, especially the diseased man. So I don’t think their initial silence was anything more than a reflection of their smug attitude, “We don’t need to bother answering you because we know we’re right.”
After Jesus exalts the man by healing him, Jesus then humbles the sudo exalted by showing them their own hypocrisy -- “Is there anyone here who, if a child or animal fell down a well, wouldn’t rush to pull him out immediately, not asking whether or not it was the Sabbath?” (The Message). This time, their silence is from embarrassment.
This, then, is the setup for the story Jesus then tells. It’s an important piece for it lays the groundwork to really drive home his story about exalting oneself. His story really isn’t about dining etiquette. It’s about the human conditioned addicted to sin. We have become so addicted to just caring about ourselves, that we have forgotten the deep truth that we were created to care for others. “I have to take care of number one because no one else will!” This is a popular saying in our culture. And it shows how messed up we are in a variety of ways. First of all, if we place ourselves as “number one,” we really have a false sense of self. When we think our sole purpose is to make sure we’re well off and don’t give two cents about anyone else, we’re off our mark. Furthermore, if everyone does this, looks out for only themselves, what does that produce in community? In society? In the global human family? A whole lot of egocentric people. And, from looking at the world around us, it seems that those type of people are the norm. How radical is the message and example of Jesus! How crucial that we still need courageous women and men to go against the flow!
As I was writing that last bit, I was reminded of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:
“[Don’t] worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
That is the picture of what the world will become -- is becoming -- because more and more people are exalting others and not themselves. What are the ways that we can exalt others in our families, our communities, our schools, our workplaces? What next steps can we take in caring for others and letting others, moved by the Spirit of G-d, care for us?
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC