Invest in the Kingdom of God

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Luke 14:1, 7-14

On a sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. … He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

In the Gospel, Jesus has been invited to a dinner on the sabbath at the home of one of the leading Pharisees. The tension between Jesus and the Pharisees has been apparent already throughout Luke’s Gospel, and we know that the invitation extended to Jesus is not one offered out of friendship or a desire to better know and understand Him, for Luke tells us that those at table were “observing him carefully,” doubtless to catch Him in some action or teaching they regarded as blasphemous or heretical. Well, Jesus obliges them, for in the verses just prior to today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man with dropsy, and on the sabbath. The Pharisees, apparently stunned by Jesus’ mercy, are left silent.

Then Jesus offers to tell a parable. It seems that, along with the Pharisees closely observing Jesus, He has been closely observing them, for He notices that the invited guests have been scrambling for the places of honor at the table.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,” Jesus says, “do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.”

Jesus is aware of the value the people of His time placed on honor and social status. The invited guests at the Pharisees dinner were scrambling for the more honorable positions because they regarded themselves as more esteemed than the others, and they wanted everyone to know. Humility in this culture was regarded as a vice, not a virtue. For everyone to recognize how important you were, you were expected to exalt yourself, to blow your own horn, as it were. Jesus, however, recommends a different strategy. Humble yourself. Take the lower spot. When your host sees you, he will ask you to move up to a higher position. Then everyone at the banquet will see you being asked to move higher and recognize how important you must be!

But, truly, Jesus isn’t here to recommend how to capture greater worldly honor or status. No. He is here to preach the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, unlike a banquet hosted by a leading Pharisee, does not value worldly honors or importance. The priorities of the kingdom are different. You might say they are the opposite of what the world values. As such, Jesus tells His host and the other guests that, in the kingdom, those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. This reversal of fortunes reflects the priorities of a kingdom that values service and sacrifice and faithfulness to God. It also reflects that those who are humble before God, who know their dependence on God’s grace, will be favored over the self-righteous who presume that they are in God’s good graces.

Knowing this, and knowing that the Pharisee who invited Him and is hosting this dinner invited his important and esteemed friends and colleagues, Jesus recommends to him a different approach.

“When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.” Jesus knows the world values tit for tat. I scratch your back and you scratch mine. I invite you to my banquet, where all the important people I know will be, and you invite me to yours, where all the important people you know will be. Being invited to a banquet where important people are will assure others (and myself!) of my own importance. I can rub elbows with the wealthy, the movers and shakers, with those who make things happen. In turn, they will regard me as one among them. This can only help raise my reputation and, in turn, perhaps create connections for me that will benefit my business, my cause, my esteem among others.

Again, however, the priorities of the kingdom are different. “When you hold a banquet,” Jesus says, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. In Jesus’ time, these were the outcasts because their troubles were attributed to their having been rejected by God. In Jesus’ day there was great debate on the question of life after death. Many Greeks and Jews rejected the idea, so they concluded that God rewarded His faithful ones here in this temporal realm. Being wealthy, being esteemed, was the result of God’s blessing, His looking upon you with favor. Consequently, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind were thought to be so because they had not found favor with God. But Jesus knows that the Pharisees, and so His host at this dinner, believe in the resurrection of the dead. They believe that God will reward the righteous in the next life, even if not in this one. Yet, they still rejected these outcasts, treating them as less than others, perhaps precisely because they could offer no social or business advantage to them. What could the poor or the lame offer in return for being treated with respect? Nothing! This, however, is exactly why Jesus recommends that we regard them with respect, and even invite them to our banquets: they cannot repay us in this world, so we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Repaid by whom? By God Himself. The poor, the lame, the crippled, the blind – these are those invited to the banquet hosted by God in the kingdom. How we treat these lowly ones is the “measure of the kingdom.” It is the measure by which God will judge us. What good will our wealth, power, prestige, or grand social status do us in the grave? We will be buried in the same dirt as the poor and the lame. Do not invest in worldly power or wealth. Rather, invest in the wealth of the kingdom of God. Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous!

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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