One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely...When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: "When you are invited to a wedding feast, don't sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, 'Give this person your seat.' Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table! Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, 'Friend, we have a better place for you!' Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Then he turned to his host. "When you put on a luncheon or a banquet," he said, "don't invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you." -Luke 14:1, 7-14
There was a man who had dropsy. Now, Jesus stopped and asked all of these people who were following along with him on the way to this dinner that had been prepared for them, Jesus asked them, "Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?" Now they were watching him, but they'd seen what had happened on some of these other occasions when people tried to trick Jesus, Jesus asked 'em a question, and they responded with silence, nobody said a word. Jesus looked at them and he looked again at this sick man, and he said... Jesus took the man and he healed him and sent him away.
And to the silent crowd of observers who were watching him, he said, "If one of you has a child or an ox, it falls into a well, wouldn't you immediately pull them out even on a Sabbath?" And their response was more silence. Now, this trip to the Pharisee's house must have set the stage for what the dinner was gonna be like. I think most of us have probably heard various forms of the adages of, you know it's not polite to talk about politics or religion or money at Thanksgiving dinner, or around the table, that there are certain things that you just don't bring those up when you're sitting around the table together.
And this group that were following along and watching Jesus, had to be thinking, okay, so what are we gonna talk about when we get there? Well, they arrive and they're prepared for this meal that was a part of the culture, part of the social order of that time, and that part of the world. Now, it sounds as though the Pharisees had adopted what was more of a Roman practice, and you may have heard talk of the Last Supper, the type of table that Jesus and the disciples would have been gathered around.
We often hear the word table and we think of those round tables with chairs around them that we have in our homes, or the square or rectangular ones, some version of that, with chairs that people pull up and sit down now, but in that part of the world, and in that time period in the Middle East, they would have had tables that were called a triclinium, and this was a table that was u-shaped, so two arms down the side and a section across the bottom, and these would have been low to the ground, just 18 inches, 24 inches off of the floor. And rather than sitting in chairs, guests would kind of lounge or recline on pillows, kind of propped up on one elbow and eating with their other hand. And in that configuration, in that U shape at the center of the base of the U would have been the seat of honor, typically the host or the person putting on the meal would have sat there. And as I've heard it explained it's most likely where Jesus sat when he had that last supper with the disciples.
Well, the Pharisees and the Romans as well, had used this practice as a way of building social connections, that it wasn't just about getting together and having a good time with friends, but rather it was about making business connections, political connections, religious connections, about establishing a person's position, in society, and to invite or be invited was part of what reinforced that. Jesus understood that this was what was going on when he was invited. They make their way there and based on the interaction and the healing of that sick man on the Sabbath and his silent crowd of observers. When they got there, they immediately flipped into that mindset of, okay, now we're here and we need to get the best seats. And so Jesus watches all of this hustle and bustle as people kind of elbow and jockey to try and get as close to that seat of position and prominence as they can, and then Jesus, who maybe had heard the adage that you shouldn't talk about politics, religion or money at the dinner table, still had a way of shutting that room down. Now, I'm guessing most of you have been to a Thanksgiving dinner or some other gathering, formal or informal, where someone brings up one of these topics, and they drop it in the middle of the table.
And the room goes silent, except for the clinking of the forks and the knives on the plates, because nobody knows what to say at that moment. I think that's what Jesus did. It says, Jesus, when he got there, he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, and he told them a parable. And he said, "When you're invited by someone to a wedding dinner. Not a banquet being hosted by a Pharisee, we'll call it a wedding banquet, when you're invited, don't sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by the host, and the host who invited both you and the other guests might say, give this person your place, and then in disgrace, you would start to take the lower seat.
But when you're invited, go and sit in the lower 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 the table with you.' For all who exalt themselves will be humbled. And those who humble themselves will be exalted." And I have to say, I've always kind of struggled with that parable because it's almost as if Jesus is saying, "Okay look, here's how you work this situation to your favor and your benefit. Alright, don't take, move and be embarrassed when you have to go choose a seat off in the corner at the kid's table, but rather pick that lesser seat so that you can be called out and recognized, 'Friend, no, you don't belong there, come over here, sit by me.' And then everybody will take note."
Well, that just doesn't seem like how Jesus would do things, and it probably isn't. I think what Jesus is getting at here is it's kind of what I was talking with the kids about. What Jesus is saying is, friends, don't think more of yourself than you ought to, don't think more highly of yourself than you really deserve. He's calling people to be humble, he's calling people to recognize that, you know what, you shouldn't be thinking, what's in this for me? I had a pastor one time that said that opinions and people are a lot like belly buttons. We've all got one. And one's not better than the other. I think Jesus wants us to recognize that in spite of the clothes we wear, the friends that we have, the parties we throw, the people that invite us, we're all the same, we're all people. He says, don't think more of yourself