Sunday 29 August 2010

Bible Book:

"For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (v.11)

Luke 14:1-14 Sunday 29 August 2010


This is a Sunday dinner with an atmosphere you could cut with aknife, and a fuse that seems about to blow any second (apart fromthe fact that it was actually a Saturday!) Jesus is apparentlysurrounded by enemies who remain eerily silent throughout the wholemeal. His observance of the rules surrounding the Jewish Sabbathwas being carefully scrutinised and often attractedcriticism.

At the start of this passage Jesus takes the initiative and puts aquestion to those who were typically his accusers. He had beeninvited to a Sabbath meal at the house of a leading Pharisee, alongwith several others who were involved in interpreting the Jewishlaw. We might imagine it was a rather lavish affair. And in themidst of this party was a man with dropsy (an abnormal accumulationof fluid beneath the skin or in a bodily cavity). So was it lawfulto heal the man on the 'day of rest' Jesus asked his fellow diners?His subsequent actions answered his own question with a definiteyes. And then he points out that they really shouldn't have giventhe question a second thought: they'd help a child or an animal"immediately" if they fell into trouble.

Merciful acts are, of course, permitted by the Law, which is meantto help people. The Gospel-writer Luke doesn't dwell on the healingitself - "Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away" ... assimple as that! Instead, Luke seems to be focusing more on therising suspicion and antagonism which is building in the overallstory.

When it came to the meal itself, the Jews had seating arrangementswhich may seem strange and rather intimate to us today. They wouldrecline on couches, each person resting on his left elbow, leavingthe right hand free to eat with. Each couch would consist of threepeople and be arranged in a U-shape around the table, which wouldbe low to the ground. The place of honour was at the centre base ofthe 'U', and the closer you were to this the more important youwere deemed to be. In each group of three, the guests would be inclose contact with each other, one person's head resting onanother's bosom. Presumably, once they were set, if someone wasasked to move then half of the table would be disrupted! Imaginethe embarrassment from the guests when all the seats have beentaken and, snuggled up to each other, Jesus points out theundignified way they've grabbed the best seats.

But Jesus doesn't stop at the seating arrangements. What about theguest list itself? They were a party of 'religious' peopleconsisting of only the elite, despite numerous prophets from theHebrew Scriptures outlining God's anger at how the wealth ofreligion has ignored the poor, the disabled, the widows and theorphans. The hosts are inviting only those who will repay theirhospitality.

Jesus points out that there is actually no true generosity ingiving to people who will only do the same for you. Repaymentfor truegenerosity comes after this life.

To Ponder

Was Jesus really interested in table manners, orwas he pointing out something deeper about people trying to getthemselves noticed by God? How were the Pharisees apparently doingthis? Is this really what the gospel life is all about?

In Jesus' day, it was common to believe thatthose who were well trained and well off were superior to the poorand less-well-educated, even in God's eyes. How much do we seethese attitudes today? Even in the Church?

Jesus points out that if we give to those whocan't pay us back then we have truly given. When (at Christmas, forexample) we exchange gifts of roughly the same value with ourfamily, friends or colleagues, are we actually giving anything atall?

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