A Reflection on Luke 14.1, 7-14
Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of the leader of the Synagogue. As everyone in town knew, dinner at this man’s house was always more than just dinner. It was an occasion for positioning oneself. It was political work on a day that was supposed to be reserved for rest. We can easily see the similarities in our society today. There are many people who go to the same church that the CEO of Wal-Mart attends because they hope to be seen by him or position themselves in his presence. A day set aside for worship in this case is also a day of political work.
This kind of positioning behavior does not just happen in our churches. Far too often, it is an everyday event. When I was in the toy industry a number of years ago, I was part of a product development team. A major national account buyer came into our show room with our sales team. He said a couple of remarks, and the sales guys all laughed as if they had just heard the finest stand-up routine ever. The buyer looked at them and asked, “Was I really that funny?” That, was a Jesus like line. It cut through the room like a hot knife through butter. Perhaps it is always better to start from a position of humility.
Now, back to the Gospel. As Jesus was talking with the dinner guests, they were all watching him closely. We can read this in a couple of ways. The context of the story indicates they were watching him to see if he would break any of the laws of their tradition. But that is not the only way to read this. They could have been watching him closely to learn from him. After all, crowds of people were following Jesus because they were awed by his wisdom, charisma, and the authority he exuded. As you read this selection of scripture, imagine you are in the room at this sabbath dinner. What do you see the people doing? But more importantly watch Jesus closely. How is he behaving? What is he doing? Who is he talking to? What are the conversations about? How might the way he behaves be a model for the way he would like you to behave?
As I enter into this text, I see something interesting. Jesus is sitting quietly. There are many conversations going on around him. Peter is the only other disciple in the room, and Jesus is sitting quietly next to Peter. Because Jesus and Peter are strangers in this room, many of the other dinner guests are not comfortable striking up a conversation. Isn’t this the way it so often is? So, while the regular guests position themselves politically, and surreptitiously watch Jesus, Jesus, as verse 7 notes, was also watching them closely. What he saw was a group of people overwhelmingly concerned about their status. What could have been a deeply relaxing and refreshing sabbath gathering was apparently simmering with a fairly high level of selfishness, stress and anxiousness. But Jesus was famous. So, in addition to positioning themselves, people were also quietly observing him to learn who he was and how he behaved. They noticed a man sitting humbly and calmly in the midst of the conversations going on all around him.
After the first courses had been served, Jesus made his first statement. “When you hold a dinner, take the least favored seat. Then you don’t have to stress about somebody more important replacing you. When you throw a dinner party, invited the poor people from your community. I’ve been observing, and I don’t see any here today. How richly you will then be repaid by experiencing the joy of the Kingdom of God.” Jesus finished speaking and sat back into the silence. He had just taught a powerful lesson, and he wondered if anyone could hear him. He had just challenged these people to change their behavior. Yet he did so without calling any one person out. Jesus had made his judgement without having the authority of a judge, but his words silenced the room.
I wonder, and Jesus is wondering, how each of us will respond to his observations.
May you observe the presence of Christ and hear his words with humility and clarity.