A meal with Jesus: Luke 14:1–24
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Paul W: Andrew is going to come and read our passage of scripture today; it’s Luke 14:1-24, a nice long one.
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.
Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” And they had nothing to say.
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I’ve just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out into the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ”
Paul W: Andrew, thank you.
A number of times in Luke’s gospel there are occasions where Jesus is sitting at table with people. People he might call friends as well as those who would call him their enemy. Our theme today could be entitled meals as mission. Over recent months, I’ve attended some meetings where folk across Frodsham have got together to discuss the problem of loneliness in our town. It’s a big thing here. Instigated by Father Michael Mills at St Laurence’s, there is a groundswell of interest in ensuring that people around our lovely town aren’t left lonely.
Indeed just this week, I met with Andrew Emison from the Methodist Church and Mansel Morgan from King’s to discuss what it might look like to have a Christmas lunch meal to anyone who might be alone or lonely on Christmas day. Put the date in your diary, the 25th of December I’ll need some help preparing the potatoes. Suffice to say at these meetings, there’s a lot of talk. My concern is that whilst talk occurs, there’s not a lot of action, which is where Jesus steps in.
Whilst reading a book called A Meal with Jesus, I’ve been challenged about my active participation here in Frodsham. What am I doing? Am I visiting the congregation enough? What can I do to alleviate loneliness? Is it all about people coming in to our church? Am I brave enough to do something radical like setting up a camping table and some chairs on a green outside some bungalows on Ashton Drive?
Leafleting the area a day or two before and just inviting people to take part in a cuppa from my flask, because Ashton Drive is quite a long distance from the church here if you can’t walk very far and if you’re stuck by yourself all day then. Tim Chester who wrote A Meal with Jesus wrote these challenging words, “Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create routines, or put on events, he ate meals. “Well, we can all do that, can’t we? Eating is one of the things that we need to do in order to stay alive, so the challenge is whether we can or want to do this together.
It’s one of the reasons that I thought that Sunday sandwiches might be helpful. Sunday sandwiches is a simple meal following our services here every Sunday. It’s a family meal, often thrown together and made and served by whoever joins in. It’s not an irregular fellowship meal with some dodgy soup and a roll served in a draughty village hall, and because when I arrived, I didn’t know anybody and thought that a regular meeting over food might help me get to know others.
The other thing that Sunday sandwiches might do would help me not just to go home from church and live my isolated Sunday afternoon, but before going on to another church related activity in the evening. It made me wonder, if I just go home and eat a sandwich alone in front of the telly, perhaps there are others who do that too.
I thought, “Well, why not invite anyone, even from the highways and the byways into the church to join in some food?” Granted it’s not Sunday roast, but it’s another chance to get together with people and to know them. That’s what we’ve been doing. I happened to mention this to the vicar and his wife on the Isle of Sheppey, where I worked before. Astounded, they looked at me and said, “What a brilliant idea. ” Is it Ishbel and Andrews’ David’s church? You mentioned it. You mentioned Sunday sandwiches too.
They’ve trialled their own version of Sunday sandwiches as well. They heard we were doing it and they’re doing it too. Such a simple idea based on Luke’s accounts of Jesus being invited to a meal where he could share with people. I hear you ask, “If this is a message about meals and mission, where’s the mission? ” Because meals don’t bring people into the Kingdom of God. Food doesn’t save people. People are always saved by the message of Jesus and his good news.
Yet meals will naturally create opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates with what I might be saying. Last year here, we talked about the importance of hospitality within the community of God and, of course, food can be part of that. Abraham invited three strangers to stay: water for their feet, food for their bodies in Genesis 18. In doing so, he entertained God himself.
Next week, we’ll be looking at how the Old Testament refers to the New Testament feeding of the 5,000. Hospitable conduct continues in the New Testament when Paul instructs the readers of the Romans to contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality in Romans 12. Again in Timothy and in Peter. The writer to the Hebrews is keen to extend the same message. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Most surprising for Peter, who became the unofficial leader of the first Christians following Pentecost in Acts 10, Luke records a dream for him to eat from a range of unclean foods. This is a key message in the mission of the early church. For it prepares Peter to take the news of Jesus to the gentiles, those outside the Jewish table. It could be argued that mission to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth began with a new understanding of hospitality.
I’ve got a friend who has written a book on being a monk. Well, he’s not a monk. Though it could be argued that there’s something or a new way of being monastic. Simon my friend has written a book called The New Monasticism. I would venture that monks and monasteries perhaps got it right when it came to hospitality. There was no expectation that if a monk offered to a wanderer or a homeless person that they should become a follower of Jesus. For example, The Rule of St. Benedict written in around AD540 says, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Monasteries and monks could be seen as the centre of mission, perhaps the centre of mission as communities, as a visible sign of a world ruled by the love of God. Because the son of man came eating and drinking, the method which Jesus chose to bring the Kingdom of God. I think all of what I have said so far perhaps comes under the heading mission. I think that Jesus would recognize all of what we have talked about today as mission. What does Jesus do in his meal at the home of the Pharisee here in Luke 14 is that he creates opportunities to do life together. Jesus didn’t open cafes. He accepted invitations. Maybe that’s what can do. Invite someone to Sunday sandwiches. Perhaps we should just make a sign and have it in the porch, come in for a chat and a sunny. We’re about to finish the Alpha Course at Costa on a Monday evening. At the festival in the park I met a little girl who loved playing that giant Jenga that we’ve had Main Street gazebo for the last couple of years. She remembered it from last year and remembered it so much that she enjoyed so that she came again and played it again this year.
Her dad works at Costa. Maybe we can invest in that relationship somehow. Have regular coffees there, just like John and Ruth do. They meet their neighbours there, learn about their neighbours’ situation. It’s all missional stuff. But back to Jesus at the Pharisee’s house in Luke 14. It begins with the Pharisee’s understanding of Leviticus, chapter 21, verses 17 to 23, where it says that no blind or disabled or unwell person could enter the temple. A sick man outside the Pharisee’s house had not been offered a place at the table because of his uncleanness. I imagine getting to that house, people, we perhaps have to clamber over him, an uncomfortable situation. Not dissimilar to perhaps going to a cash machine in Chester where below you might find a homeless person asking for money, very uncomfortable, challenging position to be in.
Jesus is being offensive towards his host in defence of the sick man in the doorway. Healing on the Sabbath when the Lord says you can’t? What say you Pharisees? Nothing. Okay. Here’s another chance to respond. What if it wasn’t healing someone? What if it was something closer to home like your child falling down a well? According to your rules, they’d had to stay there until the end of the Sabbath. Wouldn’t you do something there and then? Silence. Tim Chester points out, “Religion has nothing to offer this disabled man, but Jesus brings healing.” The Pharisees have not experienced grace or recognized their own need. As a result, they had no grace for the needy. They had nothing to say.
This meal revealed the heart of its participants. For them, it was about power and position at the table. It was about keeping the rule about the Sabbath. No restoration. The disabled man could never come into the house of the Pharisee because of his station in life, excluded because of disability. Jesus points out that this is the most uninviting attitude. To help us understand Jesus’ point more clearly, we need to appreciate Middle Eastern banqueting etiquette. Here goes. You only invite people like you into your home or to a feast, a wedding feast perhaps. Hosts are always people like you. Part of tradition. Not unlike today where you might be invited for a meal and you take a bottle of wine around to make the evening more convivial. What is the expectation that you brought something and repay your host’s kindness in some way?
Once everything is prepared, a second invitation is sent out. Perhaps the following day, saying come now, everything is prepared. Somewhere else I read that you came on invitation number one and then the butler comes in on invitation number two and says, “Come now, the invitation is extended. The food is ready.” Once you arrive, you hope to get to the place of honour, perhaps the place next to the host. You might jostle as was being done here. That was the normal way of inviting people to a big meal.
The provocative Jesus goes on to tell another story about that. He links his sitting at the table with a group of Pharisees with a surprising story about places at the table. And queries, 'What if someone even more important than you comes along? What then? How will you feel if you’re moved down the pecking order?’ Just to add some extra spices, not just about one disabled man not coming to the meal. It’s about all disabled people. This feast, according to Jesus, is for all the blind, all the disabled, all the lame and disfigured, gentile, poor, marginalised people. They cannot repay you because they have nothing to repay you with. They are the widows and the orphans that James talks about. They are the tax collectors and sinners that we mentioned a couple of weeks ago.
What Jesus says in Luke 14 is a true shocker. What? Invite people who can’t pay back niceness with niceness? What? Go above and beyond the religious hedges? Yes. Get my hands dirty amongst those people that need help? Afraid so. It reinforces the type of fasting and feasting that God once laid out in Isaiah, chapter 58 and verse 7, to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless people into your house. A huge surprise in the second parable where the host received apologies is twofold. Firstly, the people of his own set of friends are pooh-poohing him. Giving pifflingly weak excuses as to why they can’t come. Totally rude, in fact. People don’t buy land or oxen just like that. It takes a long time. People who just get married, obviously, want to sleep with their husband or wife. It’s all extremely selfish behaviour on the invitees parts and especially when one invitation has already gone out in a similar way to our save the date notes that we get these days. The second surprise is that all the original guests are replaced by the poor and disabled and blind. Even more interestingly after all the marginalised people from the city had come in, the servant is told to go even further afield and drag in everyone from the highways and byways compelled them to come in. Why are people compelled to come in? It’s because they can hardly believe their luck.
Those people who should not be there are indeed the guests of honour because the usual friends just can’t be bothered. How sad for the host, but how exciting for those who did not even expect to be invited. For them, this truly is amazing grace, and how sad it is for those who miss out on not recognizing that Jesus is the host. To end, I began by saying that I had attended a number of meetings about how to support lonely people here in Frodsham. In my opinion, sadly, there has been a lot of talk and little action. Let’s think about this. At a meal we share together, we meet as equals. If you tell someone he’s a sinner who needs God while she hand over a cup of soup at a soup kitchen, he’ll hear that he’s a loser who should become like you. But when you eat together as friends and you tell him a story about perhaps what a messed up person you might’ve been, then you can tell a story about sin and grace.
You can tell your story and it might even involve mentioning Jesus. People don’t want to be projects. People want to be included. People need community, and yes, people need the Christian community. What people need is a friend, and we read that Jesus is the friend of sinners. Jesus is the one who comes eating and drinking. Perhaps our mission strategy should be exactly that. Go, eat, drink, invite people round, come to Sunday sandwiches, chat with people, have coffee on Thursday, share company. As we have met around this table today, so let’s go and share Jesus with Frodsham. Let us not be cliqued, but let us befriend. Let food and friendship be our mission. Let us listen and love as we become Jesus to those we sit at table with.
Father, I thank you that you have given us a mission. I thank you that our mission is to be Jesus to other people.
I thank you that the example of Jesus leads us to go out and to sit and to chat and to be community with one another. I pray for each one of my brothers and sisters here this week, wherever they are, that they would be as hospitable as Jesus is in these circumstances.
I thank you for the amazing grace that’s father God you have reached out to us. You have shown us what it is and how it is that you want us to reach others in friendship. I thank you for the amazing grace that we don’t deserve, but you invite us to sit at his table. Help us to respond appropriately, I ask, in Jesus’ name.
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