One Sabbath when he had been asked to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, Jesus observed the invited guests jockeying for places of honor at the table and proceeded to give them a lesson on etiquette. However, this was not just a lesson on social niceties, but Kingdom etiquette as well. People should not vie for positions of favor, but humble themselves and allow the host to honor them both in the social realm and in the spiritual. (Luke 14:7-11).
Who were these people who presumed themselves worthy of the host putting them in the positions of greatest honor? They were the Pharisees and other religious bigots of that day. This was how they thought of themselves in their relationship with God. They considered themselves to be the most righteous. They were the strictest sect of the Jews. Surely God had blessed them with the greatest honor because of their self-professed righteousness!
Jesus then proceeded to give a lesson to the host who had invited him. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid” (Luke 14:12). Why should he not invite these people? After all, they were his “kind.” They would fit in, being of the same social level. They would have so many things in common to talk about. And they would be able to return the favor by inviting him to their parties. Who should he invite if not his rich friends and relatives?
Jesus tells him in the next verse. “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…” Why would a rich man want to invite anyone so obviously beneath him to a dinner? What did he stand to gain from such an event? There was no advantage he could gain from doing what Jesus advised him to do here.
But that is just the point. When one does something for others, hoping to gain at least an equal return on his investment in time and money, when he is reciprocally invited, he obtains all he will ever get out of the exchange. But when he invites the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind he will receive eternal benefit from his generosity. Jesus said, “…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Obviously those invited according to Jesus’ advice could not repay the host, and this certainly is part of the reason for that advice. But there is something more. When one invites the poor and the sick he is being like the heavenly Father. He has invited us to his banquet table even though we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” He has not done this in a condescending manner. He, in making it possible for us to attend his feast, has entered into our pain. He has identified with us, experienced our suffering, bearing our sorrows and griefs. Through Jesus he shed his own blood to make us clean and pure. Through forgiveness he has given us white garments to wear to his sumptuous feast.
Now, we are to “go and do likewise.” We are to meet the world at the point of their pain and bring them help and healing. We are to identify with them because we, too, are lame, and crippled and blinded by sin. We are to share with them the wonderful invitation, not as condescending, condemning critics, but as loving, understanding, sympathetic participants of the same faults and flaws. The only thing that makes us different from those we are attempting to bring to Jesus is that we have been forgiven. That forgiveness does not make us superior to the unforgiven neighbor. We simply know the way to the banquet table and they do not. Let us lead them to the feast the Lord has prepared with love and compassion.