Meals, be they SIMPLE, GRAND or on a LARGE SCALE, are a large part of our life. People love to eat. Meals are used for small talk, to talk over family matters, business, or relationships or emotions etc. etc.
A mealtime with Jesus would not go wasted. Jesus uses the mealtime to maximum effect in communicating with those present. Jesus uses this particular meal to teach several points. Let’s work our way through the bible passage and see what we can learn. Particularly two key points:
- God’s grace is given to all kinds of people.
- We can use meals to reach out to all kinds of people.
1One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
The host and his guests were watching Jesus: These were the Pharisees and religious experts who were trying to trap Jesus through his own words, they were trying to bring him down if they could. Jesus wasn’t one of them, he didn’t honour them or exalt them. Jesus upset the social norms, he upset the hierarchy, and he spoke of a spiritual kingdom, when they wanted a Messiah who would overthrow the Roman oppressors of the day by leading an uprising.
On the other hand, The man who Jesus heals, and perhaps others who were there, the servants and onlookers, wanted to know more of this man Jesus: what is he about, what can he do for me?
This observation can be applied to us in our present context. If we are at a meal with unbelievers present, who are aware of our Christianity, it is quite possible, even likely that we will be be carefully watched. There are those who want to dismiss Christianity, will be quick to find fault. In stark contrast are those who are searching for answers and may be hopeful of positives in our speech and lifestyle. They are looking to see, if what we have can work for them. THIS CAREFUL SCRUTINY MAY SEEM SCARY; IT MAY MAKE US SHY AWAY FROM HAVING MEALS WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT CHRISTIANS. Here are some points to remember, that may allay some of our fears:
- Jesus was utterly brilliant in his communication. Don’t think we have to match him.
- We don’t have to preach a sermon, or give a theological treatise on the ills in the world today.
- Just listen to people, ask questions. Show genuine interest in their life. People warm to this.
Be prepared to talk about our faith, as it naturally arises. Simple answers: Jesus helps me. He gives me purpose. I know God loves me. (One thing people want to know; can Jesus really work in my life?) Be prepared for several encounters. People coming to faith is a journey.
JESUS SHOWS GRACE
2There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. 5Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6And they had nothing to say.
Jesus is pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and religious leaders. They will save their own child or ox, yet they show no grace to others. They impose man made interpretations of the law on those they lead, oppressing them, rather than releasing them. Jesus on the contrary, in healing the suffering man displays grace, leading to freedom and release for the man. This is what happens when we encounter Jesus. We receive the grace of God for forgiveness of sins, releasing us from guilt and bringing us into a relationship with God for eternity.
THOSE WHO EXALT THEMSELVES
7When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable: 8“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. 9If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But 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 the other guests. 11For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
This was how a wedding feast worked. People would be seated in order of importance. Jesus saw these leaders he was with at this meal,would in pride take the most important seats.
Jesus is not being nice to them in offering advice to help them in their social arrangements. He is outlining how it works with God. If they want to be first with God, they had better be last. If they want to be honoured before God, they had better humble themselves.
A long time ago, in a denomination I was in, when there was a combined congregations conference, the ministers would sit on the platform facing the combined congregation , for no other reason then it was a place of honour.
Then pleasingly to me, there seemed to be a maturing take place, and it went to sitting in the front row,
then further maturing and sitting anywhere in the congregation.
I love it here at Mitchie. Pastors and elders and all kinds of servants of God, are all together. We respect roles, but we don’t hold places of honour for self aggrandisement. Sound guys, music, morning tea, door stewards, kids teachers, the kids themselves, visitors, we all sit together. The pastors are called by their first name without title, and we are all one, as it should be, all one family serving God. The young can talk to the older (kids are a really important part) and it is Jesus who is honoured.
The way of God is that we honour Jesus. We are spiritually humble, because after all, it is by grace we are invited to God’s banquet. We can’t invite ourselves to the banquet. God invites us, and overcomes our sin through Jesus and the cross.
There is a practical point in regards to sharing meals that we learn from this humility: It is not about putting on an amazing spread to impress people. Lots of people feel more comfortable sitting down to join a regular family meal time, than having a fine dining experience.
A meal may be anything from a BBQ. Regular family meal. Café. Coffee shop. Maccas. Sushi. Cold Rock.
Two or three individuals or families may bring something along: this is used very effectively here at Mitchie. It may be that you are invited to someone’s home. That can also be used for outreach. Jesus didn’t put on the meals, he didn’t have a home, but he used meals he was invited to.
Church events can be used to great effect: Morning tea or meals at Youth or Latechurch. Dinners for Eight. Sticky Date and Stories, Men’s Fire Night, Food for Thought.
IT’S NOT ABOUT FAVOURITES
12Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus directly challenges the religious leaders, who invite the right people for their own gain. They don’t invite the poor or disabled, it’s not about others, it’s all about them. What they can get out of it.
The challenge for us is not to limit invitations to our family, our friends, our church friends: but our neighbours, our workmates, our fellow students, even those we consider are more disadvantaged or lowly.
Church hospitality operating in God’s grace: is to invite people where we may never receive anything back, but we are doing it for them. It is a mission; to the unpopular ones, the difficult ones.
It is this display of love and grace to others that God will reward.
15When 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.” 16Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.'”
The feast referred to by the dinner guest is the future Messianic feast. The religious expert would expect to be there at this feast, but Jesus now comments on who will be there, who will receive the gospel message and be with God for eternity.
It was usual to send out initial invitations, and another one when the banquet was ready. It seems like The Pharisees were on board with the first invitation, because of their understanding of the law and their willingness to be right with God; but they were not receiving the message that Jesus was the answer to the law. So when Jesus came, the Pharisees were full of excuses.
18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’20Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
Jesus is using his story to challenge the religious leaders, who will all make excuses. And as in Jesus’ story, all the excuses will be lame.
In like manner, many people in our time will have lame excuses not to follow Jesus.
GOD’S GRACE TO US
21The 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.’
Not just the religious leaders who are invited, but the rest of Israel, including the sick and the beggars. Jesus is teaching the Pharisees the extent of God’s grace.
Tim Chester, who provides the background to this series, suggests these verses apply to us as well. God’s grace is extended to each of us.
- the spiritually poor – with nothing to offer for our salvation.
- the spiritually crippled – made powerless by sin
- the spiritually blind – unable to see the truth about Jesus
- the spiritually lame – unable to come to God on our own
GOD’S GRACE EXTENDS TO ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE
22‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.’
The religious leaders of Israel are invited, so is the rest of Israel, including those down and out, and here Jesus extends this to include the Gentiles. God’s grace goes out to all kinds of people.
In our mission, in our reaching out, we too should reach out to all kinds of people. We are not limited to our favourites, but to all kinds of people, including the less popular, the difficult ones.
We often wonder what we can do to more effectively reach out as a church? Sometimes we ask why we can’t reach certain types of people?
Jesus gives us a clue. Jesus did not run projects, create programs or put on events. He ate meals. If we routinely share meals with others and have a passion for Jesus, then we’ll be doing mission. Shared meals are a natural way to get to know people and for them to get to know us. Meals build bridges and very naturally lead to sharing our faith.
ONLY THROUGH JESUS CAN WE ATTEND THE BANQUET
24I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.
The ones who thought they could make it without Jesus, they will miss out. The ones who thought they were spiritually rich on their own, will miss out. The spiritually humble, who see they need Jesus, they will be at the banquet.