The way up is down! – Saturday, 30th Week in ordinary time – Luke 14:7-11

Jesus has been invited to a dinner by a leader of the Pharisees at which an elite group of Pharisees have  also been invited. Luke 14:7–14 is the third dinner invitation that Jesus accepts from a Pharisee (Luke 7:36–50; 11:37–43). Yet it becomes quite clear that these were conspirators who were posing as friends.

Even though Jesus shared several meals with Pharisees (Luke7:36), they often complained about his choice of (other) table-fellowship companions (Luke 5:30) and about how his associates secured food on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-4). Unlike his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus loved food and his disciples followed suit (Luke 5:33). He doesn’t even deny the charge that he enjoyed more than his share of wine at many meals (Luke 7:34)

But this dinner is quite clearly marked with hostility and is more a trap than a treat meant for Jesus. They thought that they were watching him but as we are told in verse seven, he was watching them. This is not the first time they have been watching him closely. In Luke 6:7 they are watching to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath. Whenever the verb ‘Paratereo’ (“keep alongside”) is used (which translates as watching in English) it is done so not  to merely indicate some fascination or curiosity but as one waiting to test another.

At this meal Jesus raises two issues. The first issue deals with humility in the face of the Pharisees clamour for the seats of honour. At the time of Jesus people sat in a triclinium or three sofas placed in a ‘u’ formation. The host sat in the centre and that was the place that Jesus would have been offered. I like to think that Jesus was conscious of his own privilege at that meal.

When Jesus advises the guest to take the lowest places, He was not giving them a “gimmick” that guaranteed promotion nor was this parable about banquet etiquette. This was an occasion when Jesus wanted to teach what genuine humility was all about. He was teaching the Pharisees that it was better to be humble than humiliated; for in our endeavour to get to the hall of fame we might end up walking into the hall of shame.

Many people misunderstand Christian humility. C.S. Lewis once said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Jesus is the greatest example of humility, and we would do well to ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to imitate Him (Phil. 2:1–16). One way we can perhaps get better at being humble is by showing honour to others. Give others the bigger piece. Give others first place. Give others the better seat. And be content!

Jesus also addressed another issue. He wants to teach us about the way we treat others, especially those among us who unable to “pay us back.” Jesus advises his dinner host, a leader of the Pharisees, that his guest list should not be limited to those within and above his social class. Today sadly the emphasis is on status rather than on character and that determines our guest list.

Jesus points out to him that his “quid pro quo” game is nothing but a fake show of hospitality; it was conditional love. Real love is unconditional because it is about giving without expecting anything in return. Wealth and position are a blessing when shared and used for the betterment of humanity. We often confuse privileges with blessings. In short, the way up is down!

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