Red Letter Year: 8/14

Luke 14.1-14

One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely. There was a man there whose arms and legs were swollen. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in religious law, “Is it permitted in the law to heal people on the Sabbath day or not?” When they refused to answer, Jesus touched the sick man and healed him and sent him away. Then he turned to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” Again they could not answer.

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table! 10 Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. 13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”


Here is another of those contentious meals Jesus shared with a Pharisee, this time a leader among them. It is interesting that Luke tells us the people were watching Jesus closely (v.1) and that Jesus was watching them closely (v.7). Things get tense immediately as a man with edema (also called dropsy) somehow gets in (even though his swelling made him unclean) and Jesus asks them what they think about healing on the Sabbath. It’s hard to imagine a room full of religious leaders and lawyers having no answer at all, but they make no response. Jesus heals the man and then begins discussing banquet seating arrangements.

The rest might seem like common wisdom or just plain good advice (the NLT seems to think so), but the word there should be parable not advice – Luke tells us that Jesus began to speak in a parable. It doesn’t seem like a parable, though, it seems like something you might find in Proverbs (e.g., 25.6-7) or in an etiquette book of the day. But Jesus is saying this to them while they are jockeying for the best seats. He is rebuking their behavior by making a parody of good advice. Humility was considered a vice in both Greek and Jewish culture. Holding it up as a virtue was a distinctive of Jesus’ teaching. 

This becomes more apparent with what Jesus says to the host: stop inviting those who can return the favor and invite the poor instead: the crippled, blind, and lame (those excluded from priesthood, Lev. 21.17-21). Taking these two parts together, Jesus is telling them to invite the poor to their parties and then take the lowest seats, giving honor to the poor. Jesus is advocating the very sort of reversal Luke has been talking about since chapter 1. Participate in the reversal, Jesus says, prefigure it now in your own social actions. Of course, those sorts of parties will be attended by unclean people (like the man who crashed this party), making the issue of when to heal very pertinent. One can only hope that some of the guests were positively affected by seeing the man healed before their very eyes. The best way to see people get healed is to have people who need healing feel welcome to come.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.