Monday, August 13, 2018

Luke 14

Luke 14 (ESV): Healing of a Man on the Sabbath; The Parable of the Wedding Feast; The Parable of the Great Banquet; The Cost of Discipleship; Salt Without Taste is Worthless

Passage

In this passage, Jesus dines with one of the rulers of the Pharisees, and has a number of religious discussions with those in attendance. We are told in verse 1 (ESV) that those in attendance are “watching him carefully,” because that’s what the Pharisees always do with Jesus: try to catch him saying something bad, or incorrect, when it comes to the Jewish religion, so that they can discredit him.

Things start down this path immediately, because there’s a man there who has “dropsy” (the ESV Study Bible says that this is probably “edema, where excess fluid gathers in various parts of the body”), but this dinner is taking place on the Sabbath. Jesus knows that the folks there are watching to see what he’s going to do, because clashing with the Pharisees on the topic of healing on the Sabbath seems to be a regular occurrence for him. So Jesus starts the argument, before the Pharisees even get a chance to:
And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (verse 3 (ESV))
What’s interesting about this is that we’re not told that the Pharisees had actually said anything, and yet the verse says that Jesus “responded” to them. One of two things is happening: either they did say something and it’s just not recorded, or they didn’t say anything but, because the whole purpose of having someone at the dinner who needed to be healed was to see what Jesus would do, him starting the conversation was still a “response” to them.

Either way, the Pharisees’ response is to stay silent. They don’t argue the point, neither do they agree with Jesus, they just don’t say anything. So Jesus heals the man and sends him on his way, then addresses the Pharisees again:
And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. (verses 5–6 (ESV))
After this, as Jesus is noticing how the guests are trying to choose places of honour for themselves, he gives them some advice: when you’re invited to a feast, you shouldn’t try to take a place of honour, because there’s always a chance that someone more important will show up, at which point the host is going to have to ask you to move—with shame, you’ll end up having to take the lowest space. Instead, you should choose the lowest space, and then the host will come to you and ask you to take a better spot, which will honour you in front of everyone. It is obvious that this is more than just advice for choosing spots at banquets, since Jesus finishes by saying, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (verse 11 (ESV)), which sounds like a larger statement.

In keeping with his banquet theme, Jesus then gives what is called the “Parable of the Great Banquet” (at least that’s what the ESV section heading calls it), but I think it’s actually two parables:
  • Don’t [just] invite people who can repay you: The first part is directed at the host of the current feast. Jesus tells him (and, by extension, his other listeners—and us) not to invite friends and family and rich neighbours, because all of those people can have banquets of their own, and invite the host back, and then he’ll have been repaid. Instead, the host should invite those who can’t possibly pay him back with their own banquets. That way he’ll be repaid at “the resurrection of the just” (verse 14 (ESV)).
    • Jesus didn’t say don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbours, he said don’t invite your friends and family and rich neighbours. I added in the “just.” Not that I’m trying to weasel out of anything—I think only ever helping people who can’t help you back would be a good thing—I’m just trying not to be legalistic about it either, or say that you shouldn’t help those who can help you back. And yes, I’m saying “help,” not just “invite to your banquets,” because I think it’s clear that Jesus is talking about more than banquets here.
  • Don’t be so quick to RSVP to that feast: After Jesus says the thing about not inviting people who can repay you, one of his listeners responds by saying, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (verse 15 (ESV)), which, on the surface of it, sounds good, but Jesus then tells another parable. In this one, a man is having another banquet, and invites a bunch of people. As the time approaches, the man sends his servant to tell the guests that everything is ready, but the guests all start to make excuses as to why they can’t come. When the servant reports this back to the master, the master gets angry, and sends the servant out to start inviting people off the street, including poor and crippled people, so the servant does. When it’s reported that this has been done but there’s still room, the master tells the servant to cast an even wider net, going outside the city to look for people to invite. Jesus ends the parable by having the master of this feast say, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (verse 24 (ESV)).
But that might lead to a question: Why did none of the original invitees attend the banquet? They give some excuses, but they all boil down to the same thing: They didn’t properly count the cost, before accepting the invitation. Jesus turns to the crowds that have been following him, and tells them that nobody can be his disciple unless they hate their own family—father and mother and wife and children and siblings—if he doesn’t hate even his own life. He can’t be Jesus’ disciple unless he bears his own cross. (It’s been said countless times before, but bears repeating: the cross was such a common form of execution in Jesus’ day that his listeners would have known exactly what he meant, in the equivalent of him telling people in today’s world to carry around their own electric chair, and be continually prepared to be strapped in.) He then gives some examples of how people have to count the cost of what they’re planning to do, before they begin to do it:
  • You wouldn’t try to build a tower without calculating how much you think it’s going to cost, and verifying that you’ve got enough money to do it.
  • A king wouldn’t go to battle without first giving some serious thought as to whether his 10,000 troops are going to be able to defeat the 20,000 troops they’ll be fighting against.
Similarly, nobody can become Christ’s disciple unless they’re willing to give up everything they have, to do so. If you didn’t—if you were to call yourself a Christian, but not be willing to give up some aspects of your life—you’d be like salt that had lost its saltiness; you’d be of no use to anyone, and good for nothing but to be thrown away.

Thoughts

Over the course of time—and we’re probably talking about decades, if not longer—the Pharisees have convinced themselves of certain things, one of which is that it is unlawful to heal on the Sabbath. The Scriptures don’t say that, but the Jewish religious leaders had been trying to come up with rules and regulations to help clarify what the Scriptures said, and in trying to define the word “work” (so that they wouldn’t “work” on the Sabbath), they’d eventually decided that healing constituted “work.” But their rules were not always consistent; in Jesus’ example, if the Pharisees had a son who had fallen into a well, they’d be able to pull him out without breaking their rules; same thing if they had an ox who had fallen into a well. It seems clear to my eyes that either of these two activities would be more “work” than healing someone, but the Pharisees had decided that saving someone from a well wasn’t work, but healing was. Two points on this:
  1. I don’t think any of this would have been a problem for Jesus, if the guidelines the religious leaders were creating were simply that: guidelines. Some things that you should consider, when trying to figure out whether you were going to break God’s law by doing something. Do you need to pull someone (or an animal) out of a well? In view of the larger points raised in the Scriptures, even if it is work, it’s work that God would likely want you to do, because saving a life is more important than trying to narrowly define what “work” is. Do you have a job healing people, where they come to your office to be healed? Then you should take the Sabbath off, and have people come to see you the next day instead—but if you’re traveling, or you come across someone who needs to be healed and they can’t come back tomorrow, then, again, God would want you to do what is good and right. Probably not a very nuanced view of this, but if these were just guidelines, then Jesus probably would not have fought with the Pharisees on this topic so often. However, over time, the Pharisees and the religious leaders had started to consider their rules to be just as binding as the laws laid out in the Scriptures, and that’s a problem. In this particular instance, the Pharisees didn’t care if this man was healed or not, they only cared about whether Jesus was breaking their rule about how they defined the Sabbath; to them, that rule was more important than this man’s health or his life. That goes against God’s law, and His way of thinking.
  2. Things are made all the worse when some of the rules and regulations that are creeping in are not only inconsistent with each other, but are inconsistent with the actual Scriptures. God says, “love your neighbour,” and the Pharisees respond with, “unless that means breaking our definition of “work” on the Sabbath, in which case don’t love your neighbour until tomorrow!” But there is no “unless.” You can’t say, “listen to God’s Word, except in cases where I have a different view on things.” The goal is not to be legalistic, but it is to try to find messages in the Scriptures about what is important to God, what He values, and then trying to emulate that ourselves. Any time we try to interpret the Bible in different ways, to hold better with how we view the universe, we’re really saying that we know better than God, which is patently absurd. So we need to strive to see what the Bible really says (about everything), rather than trying to read the Bible through a lens of what we already believe (or want to believe).
For the “advice” Jesus gives on choosing seats at a banquet, it’s pretty clear that he’s making a larger religious point, not just talking about seating arrangements. (The ESV section heading even calls it “The Parable of the Wedding Feast,” so they also view this as a parable, not just advice.) Especially since Jesus is speaking in absolutes, whereas, in real life, what he’s describing might not actually happen: you might take a seat of honour at a banquet and not be kicked down to a lower seat; you might take a “lower” seat and not be moved up to a better spot. But Jesus’ point isn’t about seats at a banquet, it’s that we should humble ourselves, in all situations. (The particular example he gives here doesn’t really even resonate with us, in 21st Century North America, since we don’t have this kind of seating hierarchy at our banquets, so it’s hard to relate to Jesus’ listeners.) But I think the general message is that things will go much better for you, in general, if you’re humble, than they will if you’re always seeking recognition for your greatness or for your status. If you seek to promote yourself, there will be times when others are better than you or have higher status than you, and you could end up looking foolish. If you are humble, there will be times when someone else will recognize your humility, and elevate you, and there will be times when nobody will notice anything and you’ll stay in obscurity—which was your goal in the first place, so you’re still fine. And, of course, this goes well beyond earthly advice, because God Himself wants you to be humble, and He is the one you should be trying to please anyway. Jesus humbled himself more than we ever possibly can, he was God and became a man, and lived his life as a man—even taking punishment for sins, even though he is the only man who ever lived who didn’t deserve it—and we are to emulate Jesus, so we also should be humble, and humble ourselves.

As mentioned above, Jesus’ parables about the “great feast” are about more than just who we invite to our meals, it’s about doing good and helping people in general. We should help anyone who needs it, whenever it’s in our power, regardless of whether they’ll be able to repay us or not, but, on the whole, it’s even better to help someone who can’t repay us than to help someone who can. There are a couple of lessons being tied together here, to be frank, because Jesus’ parable, in the specific way it’s worded (and/or translated into English) makes it sounds like we should only help those who can’t help us back—but then we just talked above about the Pharisees trying to get too legalistic with their rules. I think it would be against God’s way of thinking if someone came up to me and asked for help, and I turned him down because of the fact that he might be able to repay me someday. But the point of Jesus’ parable is that when someone comes up to me asking for help, and I don’t think he’ll ever be able to repay me, I should be just as, or even more, eager to do so.

But then someone listening to Jesus, who understands that Jesus is talking about more than just earthly matters, says that anyone who eats bread in the kingdom of God is blessed—and Jesus says not so fast. He tells another parable, in which someone is throwing a feast, invites a bunch of people, and nobody shows up. In point of fact, for banquets at that time, there would actually have been two invitations sent: one that was sent well in advance, and another on the day of the banquet itself to let people know it was ready.

AttendeesWho They RepresentThoughts
Original inviteesJewish religious leadersAs mentioned, these people were sent their invitations well in advance, so when the time for the banquet had finally arrived, it was clear that they had let other matters get in the way of preparing themselves for the banquet. Since the banquet represents the kingdom of God, this is a metaphor for the Jewish religious leaders having known for a long time—centuries!—that the kingdom of God would one day arrive, but when it finally did, they were more worried about earthly things than they were about actually listening to Jesus, and being a part of the kingdom.
People from the streetsJewish laypeopleSo once the religious leaders reject the kingdom of God, Jesus reaches out to the Jewish layperson. Remember that the vast majority of Jesus’ ministry, with a couple of notable exceptions, was to the Jews of his day. Later on, in Acts, the Gospel spreads far beyond the Jews, but Jesus’ mission was primarily to them. In this parable, we see this second round of invitees to the banquet being much more receptive than the original invitees were—though the place still isn’t full.
People from outside the cityGentilesHere’s where Jesus’ listeners would probably get the most scandalized: When there is still room at the banquet, the person throwing the banquet tells his servant to “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (verse 23 (ESV)), and by “the highways and hedges” is meant outside the city; Jesus’ listeners would have rightly understood this to mean the Gentiles.

So when the man said, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” he was right, but Jesus was trying to tell them that the Jewish religious leaders of his day were missing the point of his teachings, and, therefore, were also missing out on the kingdom of God. Some Gentiles would be part of the kingdom of God, but they wouldn’t.

And, as mentioned above, the reason they wouldn’t is that, when they counted up the cost, it seemed too high to them. They would have had to give up some of their earthly things. Is eternal life of sinless relationship with God not worth that cost? I would say yes—I did say yes, which is why I’m a Christian—but Jesus’ point is that it’s not a decision people should make lightly. Our job, as Christians, will sometimes be to help people understand the cost of following Jesus. Again, we’re following in his footsteps; he thought it was important to make this point very clear—you can’t be his disciple unless you’re willing to give up everything—so we should too. Our job is not to “trick” people into becoming Christians, our job is to explain Christianity to them, and let them make up their own minds; hopefully the Holy Spirit will intercede, and they’ll see that, even though the cost is high, it’s still more than worth it.

There are some points that could be made on the specific points here—Did Jesus really mean to hate your family? Did Jesus really mean that we’re not Christians if we don’t die?!?—and I might even have made those points when blogging about similar passages, but those specific points become less important in the larger context of what Jesus is saying: his point is that you have to be willing to give up everything—friends, family, possessions, your life—in order to follow him, because you might very well be asked to give those things up. Or… you might not. There have been many, many people who had to endure rifts with family because they decided to follow Jesus, and people who have had to give up ill-gotten gains that they decided were incompatible with their new faith, and people who gave their lives trying to give the Gospel to others. I, on the other hand, have had to give up little or nothing, and in fact live a pretty good life. But if I ever have to choose between Jesus and anything or anyone else, my choice would have to be Jesus.

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