28 August 2015

Luke 14:1-11

“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man with dropsy.” (vv. 1-2)

Psalm: Psalm 76


There are four points in this opening sentence which ring alarm bells: Jesus, the young Galilean teacher and drawer of crowds, was invited to the house of a Pharisee, one who would not be considered sympathetic; he was invited to eat a meal, with all the ceremony and restrictions around eating; it was the Sabbath, with all that that entailed; they were watching him closely. This was not a relaxed social occasion.

Luke's Gospel records several meal occasions which are the scenes for conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities (Luke 5:29-39; 7:36-50; 11:37-52). The conflict appears to be set up: a man afflicted with dropsy (oedema) was present. This incident is only recorded by Luke and he starts the sentence with a word which indicates an element of surprize or significance (Greek: 'idou'): 'look!' 'see there!'. Luke used this word on a number of occasions and alerts the reader to expect the unexpected (eg Luke 5:12, 18; 7:12, 37).

Three controvesial issues are presented through this incident. The first is the question of whether or not healing may be effected on the Sabbath: if a child or an ox, then why not a suffering man? The second is a challenge to the self-important who seek to exalt themselves and run the risk of humiliation. These themes are treated elsewhere in the Gospel (Luke 13:10-17; 22:24-27).

The third issue addressed is that of who should be at the table: is it those who are in a position to return the compliment or should it rather be those on the margins of society? The crippled, the blind and the lame were, according to the law, barred from the priestly company round that particular table (Leviticus 21:17-21); the term 'poor' was used for marginalised people in general. Later that evening, Jesus would tell a parable explicitly including those who society would exclude (Luke 14:15-24).

To Ponder

  • Reflect on those who are regarded as unacceptable in the circles in which you move. Who is omitted from your table?
  • How do you respond when those unsympathetic to Christian values seem to set you up for a fall? To what extent are you able to avoid being defensive?

Bible notes author

Gillian Kingston

Gillian Kingston is a local preacher on the North Tipperary Circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a part-time university chaplain. She is interim Vice-President of the World Methodist Council.