Commentary on Luke 14:1, 7-14
Luke 14:7–14 is the third dinner invitation Jesus accepts from a Pharisee (Luke 7:36–50; 11:37–43).
At the dinner with the Pharisees and lawyers in Chapter 11, Jesus accuses them of neglecting the justice and love of God (11:42–43). Luke’s Jesus has a complex relationship with Pharisees (some suggest Jesus may have been a Pharisee himself). Although Pharisees dispute with Jesus and sometimes express hostility toward him, Jesus continues to engage and dine with them. This kind of collegiality and friendship can be difficult to understand, especially in a rigid religio-political partisan atmosphere where, as in Jesus’ day, life is (de)valued differently and ignorance, tempers, and stereotypes often prevail. Readers must be careful not to stereotype and demonize the Pharisees as Luke sometimes does. For example, when Luke depicts the Pharisees as lovers of money or as self-righteous, readers often view all Pharisees the same (16:14; 18:9–14).
Some Pharisees felt that Jesus should have a distant relationship with ‘sinners and tax collectors’ that did not involve meals and foot washing (Luke 5:29-32; 7:34; 36-50). Other Pharisees believed that Jesus should wash his hands before all meals, should not heal desperate folks on the Sabbath, and not allow his disciples to harvest and prepare food on the Sabbath (5:33-39; 6:1-5, 11:37-43). Yet, the Pharisees were also amazed that Jesus could heal and forgive sins, and some even warned Jesus when Herod wanted to kill him (5:17-26; 13:31). So, this third feast that Jesus attends in the home of a leader of the Pharisees on the Sabbath should be no surprise (14:1). Jesus was likely invited; it is an invitation he did not refuse, despite it apparently being a feast for the social elite and perhaps wise, influential, and admired Rabbis like Jesus. Even among the social elite a hierarchy of importance exists.
At dinner the Pharisees closely watch Jesus; this was not first time (Luke 14:1; refer to 6:7 to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath). Likewise, Jesus is very observant of the behavior of the dinner guests (14:7). Their problematic snobby and exclusive behavior prompts Jesus to share a parable with them. Jesus observed that as the guests arrived they scrambled for front row seats closest to the host (protoklisia), in the VIP (very important person) section. The point Luke’s Jesus will make with the parable is that people who uplift (hypsoo) themselves will be humbled, but those who humble (tapeino) themselves will be exalted (14:11). Similar language is used for Jesus’ passion (20:17, 42; 24:46).
I recently registered for a religious event. I paid the lower early bird rate, but $35 more would have gotten me a VIP seat. I did not select the VIP option because the idea that my ability or willingness to pay more would determine my importance as an attendee at this conference in the eyes of the conveners and perhaps attendees and participants. Our social status or financial resources should not establish our significance in the eyes of others or in our own minds.
Luke’s Gospel begins with this theme of lifting up the marginalized and oppressed. When Elizabeth, a childless married woman, conceives, she declares that God took away her social shame and exalted her (Luke 1:24-25). Mary, a young unmarried virgin, conceives with Holy Spirit, but like other women the baby will grow in her womb for nine months, making her, we imagine, the object of her social derision (1:26-38). But Mary’s song tells the story of status reversal—God looks favorably on the humility of God’s enslaved girl (doule); future (if not the present—people can count) generations will call her blessed (1:46-55). As the Most High (hypsistos) who dwells in the Highest heaven, God exalts the poor, lowly, and marginalized, as does Jesus as the son and prophet of the Most High (1:32, 35, 76; 2:14). If the Most High God and his son visits, communes with, and uplifts the lowliest in society, surely the Pharisees and Jesus’ disciples should do the same.
Jesus also advises the dinner host, a leader of the Pharisees, that his guest list should not be limited to those within and above his social class; he should invite the marginalized, the dis-eased and physically challenged, and/or those who are socially and economically humbled. He should include people who cannot return the favor of hosting a feast to which he would be invited. This teaching is reinforced with a second parable (Luke 14:15-24). Obviously, Jesus is not viewed in the same light as the poor and marginalized people he mentions; he is one of the guests. This is likely because despite Jesus’ material poverty, his authoritative teaching and powerful healing resulted in notoriety among the crowds and a number of dinner invitations; he had authority and privilege others lacked. I like to think that Jesus was conscious of his own privilege (not just the privilege of the Pharisaic leader and his other guests). If the host responds affirmatively to Jesus’ wisdom and admonition, he will be blessed in the future, namely at the resurrection of the just (dikaioi) (14:14; see also 1: 6, 17, 25).
As John the Baptist taught, Jesus’ disciples should share their resources and excess with others so that they do not starve or become ill and are properly clothed, make amends for abusing and defrauding others, love enemies, treat haters well, bless those who curse them, pray for those who abuse them; if someone steals their coat, give them a shirt too, give to all beggars, and lend with no expectation of repayment (Luke 3:10-14; 6:27-34). This unexpected and unconventional love and kindness is because they are “children of the Most High” in the similar way that Jesus is “son of the Most High” (6:35). In his wilderness temptation, Jesus sided with the oppressed rather than exalt himself and abuse his authority and privileges. The Spirit anointed Jesus (and us) to bring good news to the poor, release of the incarcerated, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed (4:1-19)
Wealth and position are a blessing when shared and used for the betterment of humanity. We often confuse privileges with blessings. Many people born in developed countries are born into privilege relative to others born in developing regions ravaged by (neo)colonization, famine, and war. When we name privilege as God’s blessing, we tend to spiritualize God’s blessing for the less privileged/fortunate; for the privileged it is material, but for the underprivileged it is spiritual. Wealth, birthplace, race, class, gender, sexuality, age, access, health, and so on can be mistaken for Divine blessings when they are the result of privilege. God calls us to turn our privilege into blessings.