Jesus, you are one wild troublemaker. Jesus notices how the guests picked the places of honor at the table” and can’t help making a comment (Luke 14:7).

Should we be surprised that those invited to the dinner were acting this way? Israel was an honor and shame based society in which social status and its proper recognition were extremely important. Teachers of the Law were more important – and recognized to be so – that what modern church attenders would call lay people” or what the religious teachers of Israel in Jesus’ day derisively described as the am haares or people of the land.” 

Social and religious divisions in Israel ran deep. The rich were more important than the poor. The educated were more important than the uneducated. The healthy were more important – and more blessed – than the sick. Those who were whole in body and mind were more important – and blessed – than the crippled, the mentally ill, the blind, the deaf, those possessed by demons. These distinctions – and their religious justification — were basic givens in the Jewish world in which Jesus lived. 

The same was true of the broader Roman world that ruled over Israel. Who and where one was on the social and religious ladder of status and recognition mattered deeply. And so, as Jesus was quick to notice, where people sat at a dinner meal was extremely important to all concerned. To take a lower, less important seat was to shame or dishonor oneself.

Jesus – how wild, how untamed, you are, Lord” – will have none of this and tells a story to explain why. As he does so, Jesus both accommodates and inverts the honor based values he has encountered at the dinner. If you are invited to a wedding feast, Jesus says, and in your eagerness to be recognized by your peers proceed to take an honored seat, how will you feel if someone more honored than you has also been invited? How embarrassing, how shameful, to have to give up your seat to a more honored guest and then take a less recognized, less honored place. It is better, Jesus teaches, to take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14: 10 – 11). 

Self-exaltation, Jesus teaches, leads to humiliation; the willingness to be humiliated, demonstrated in a concrete action, leads to exaltation. From the point of view of these Jewish teachers, Jesus was once again turning their world upside down.

I’m sure by this point in the dinner things were rather quiet. Concerned glances were being exchanged. Some faces must have been flushed. Blood pressures had risen. Heart rates had increased. Who does this man think he is?” some must have been asking. Precisely.

Jesus doesn’t lower the ante for one moment; he increases it. He centers his words directly on the issue of invitations. Jesus addresses his host” in front of all the invited guests and lectures him on who should be invited to a luncheon” or dinner” and who should be left off the invitation list. “…don’t invite your friends, your brothers or relatives or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12 – 14). Few at the dinner – other than Jesus – could have been happy at this point or pleased with these words.

Oh, Lord, you can be so direct. So abrupt. So demanding. I want to hear. I want to respond. To do so, though, I need lots of grace. Lots. Help me, Lord, for your mercy is great.”

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