Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

134. At the meal table (Luke 14:1-24)*

The gospels tell of three occasions when Pharisees invited Jesus to a meal. Judging from the outcome, the other two invitations were hostile in intention (Luke 7:36; 11:37), and this loo, most probably. This time the host was "one of the rulers of the Pharisees", the majority parry on the Council.

Even though the Psalmist has trenchant words about "not sitting with vain persons, nor going in with dissemblers" (26:4), Jesus had no qualms about accepting the invitation. Separateness from evil depends essentially on one's frame of mind, and in this respect Jesus was immune. Indeed he saw to it that the present occasion should provide as fine an example as could be wished of wholesome table talk. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).

It was not by any accident that, close to Jesus at the meal-table, was a poor sufferer, bloated and ugly with dropsy. He had, of course, been set there with the deliberate intention of posing a problem to Jesus, though doubtless he himself had accepted the invitation with eagerness and high hopes that he too might experience the healing powers of this amazing man.

"They watched him"

These Pharisees knew the strength of the Lord's overmastering compassion. Would he, then, heal the man, even though it was the sabbath day? On five other occasions already • Jesus had been in controversy with the Pharisees regarding his sabbath-wrought miracles. It is a measure of their fanaticism—and confidence-regarding this that they once again provoked a clash with Jesus concerning it.

So "they watched him." "The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him" (Ps. 37:32); but "all that watch for iniquity are cut off: that make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate" (Is. 29:20,21). There can be little doubt that this was a snare, a trap deliberately laid to put Jesus in a difficult position, with critics on every side and no marvelling crowd to appeal to. Even so, it is not necessary to assume that the afflicted man was party to the evil scheme. Were he so, is it likely that Jesus would have healed him?

Before he did so, the Lord "answered" (v.3) the unspoken challenge in their malevolent stare: "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?" How many times had these Pharisees tried to get Jesus on the horns of a dilemma with theirtrick questions. Now they found the tables turned on them. For if they answered:"Yes, it is lawful", what possible criticism could they then make of Jesus? And if "No", it would be an open hurt to their afflicted friend sitting there. In any case, how could they reconcile their own self-indulgence on this sabbath with an unwillingness even to see aid brought to this sufferer? So they took refuge in an embarrassed hostile silence.

Thereupon Jesus took hold of the dropsical man, and lifted him to his feet. The gospel mentions no word of authority, but simply that the man was healed. His flabby face took on a healthy normality, his swollen body subsided, his elephantine legs and puffy feet became like those of a young man. He stood there, attempting to stammer out his delighted thanks, whilst the Pharisees stared at him in incredulity and disgust. Then, to save him from assaults on his faith by these unbelievers, Jesus forthwhile sent him away. The Greek word seems to imply that he did not want to stay, anyway.

Good works on the Sabbath

As they now began to take their places at table, the Lord stifled the sleeping volcano of their objections with a simple argument: 'If your son or your ox falls into a pit on the Sabbath, there isn't one of you who will not take steps to haul him out—and without losing a minute-even though it be the sabbath day. Or is there?’ But not one present was willing to contend against this reasoning. Yet it implied Christ’s personal possession of and authority over the life of the man just healed, and therefore just as much over the lives of these Pharisees.

The saving of a son or an ox was an action with a certain element of selfishness in it, but not so this healing of the dropsy. Then how much less objection could there be to such an action? (1 Cor. 9:9,10).

The fact is that the precepts of the rabbis actually forbade such a rescue on the Sabbath. The case had already been legislated for: "Supply food, but do nothing further till the sabbath is past." Yet Jesus knew he was on safe ground with this illustration, for these Pharisees, dominated by self-interest, kept their own commandments only when it was convenient: "they say, and do not" (Mt. 23:3). So there was no answer to either miracle or argument-only red faces.

A parable of place-seeking

And these became redder as Jesus noted and reproved the small-minded way in which they manoeuvred to get what were deemed to be the places of prestige at table. He quoted them the proverb: "Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king (thus, indirectly, declaring himself to be the King), and stand not in the place of great men: for better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen"(Pr. 25:6,7).

Then he turned it into a parable: Invited to a marriage feast, show no eagerness to appropriate one of the best seats. You may be humiliated by being told to move to the bottom of the table. So instead choose the humblest place there is, and leave it to the host to promote you, and so enhance your reputation before all the rest—that is, if your worth as a friend (philos) warrants it! ("that he may say unto thee...").

This was not just a rebuke of Pharisaic pride. It was a parable. Jesus had better things to do than spend time giving lessons in social behaviour.

The "marriage feast" can hardly represent "the marriage supper of the Lamb," for it is difficult to imagine any jostling for priority or shaming of the self-assertive in that time of blessedness. But see it as a betrothal feast (which would be similarly described-see Study 7), and there is no difficulty. This corresponds to the present union of the believer with Christ-his acceptance into the ecclesia.
It is important also to note the distinction (very easily missed) between the servant who conveys (lie invitation and who also somewhat brusquely sets the proud guest in a lower place, and the host who is providing the betrothal feast. He comes in later, picks out the humble guest deserving of greater prominence, and— greeting him as a specially close friend—insists on his exaltation to a better seat (s.w, Ex. 19:23 LXX).

Thus Jesus taught the sinfulness of pride and self-seeking in the ecclesia (1 Tim. 3:6). The lesson needed to be learned specially by the better type among these Pharisees who, impressed by the works and teaching of Christ, were hesitating whether or not they should throw in their lot with him. The parable reminded such that, once out of the synagogue, and into the ecclesia, their right and proper place for a good while to come must needs be in a position of humility and subjection. Authority must be conceded to men like the twelve, who in education and in religious and social standing were very much their inferiors.

The lesson was not well learned in the early church. "A great company of priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7). These were trained teachers of the Law and accustomed to instruct and to exercise authority, for "a priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they (the people) should seek the law at his mouth" (Mal. 2:7). Naturally, such men —in spite of the warning given here by Jesus—would consider themselves to be specially qualified as teachers in the ecclesia. There is reason to believe that it was men of this character who later brought the infant church near to disaster with their ill-informed emphasis on the continuing authority of Moses. And James's trenchant exposure of possible evils arising from "the tongue'—that is, the teacher in the ecclesia (see Jas. 3:1RV)— shows that in the earliest days the danger was a very real one.

The same lesson may still go unlearned. More than one distressing example has been known of the glamour of advanced education or social standing or wealth resulting in an ill-advised exaltation to eminence, responsibility and spiritual leadership for which as yet there was no adequate qualification.

"For whomsoever exalteth himself shall be abased (Is. 14:13-15); and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Phil. 2:5-11)." The importance of this two-fold lesson may be gauged from the fact that the Lord spoke it on three separate occasions (18:14; Mat. 23:12).

The etiquette of heaven

The present situation justified another parable of this character, even more relevant to the company at table—this was about whom to invite to a party. Not friends, whom it is pleasant to entertain; not relations, though there is a certain seemliness about such an invitation; not the rich, though this may be advantageous. But, instead, the poor and afflicted who are in no position to offer hospitality in return (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

Once again,Jesus' main intention was not to give lessons in etiquette. This is a parable, calling for interpretation.

The issuing of invitations to a meal is readily seen to correspond in these days to the personal duty of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. As in the next parable (verse 21), the poor, maimed, lame, and blind who cannot give a recompense are those who know their own need and are glad enough to accept an invitation to the divine feast. The others—friends, kinsmen, well-off neighbours—are those already in the family of God who are able to make a spiritual return for the fellowship and ministration of the Word which they themselves enjoy.

Of course, Jesus was not shutting the door against extending one's ministrations and fellowship to those in the ecclesia (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9; Heb. 13:2)-the Greek verb implies "do not habitually call. . ." But he was stressing the special importance of effort on behalf of those out of the way of salvation.

In modern times there is particular need to observe this principle, for after all, this is what God Himself does (v.16,21; Mt. 25:34,35,40). Lack of response to the call of the gospel has had a discouraging effect on many would-be preachers. It has also served to divert into other channels much energy which would be more happily and more profitably employed in preaching, thankless though the task may seem. Today the ecclesias are suffering from a kind of spiritual inbreeding. Content to exist as a separate little world, they are content also to "strengthen the things that remain" with-a round of Fraternal Gatherings and social meetings of all kinds. "These ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone"!

Resurrection and recompense

As on some other occasions (e.g. Lk. 16:31; Mt. 25:13; 20:16), Jesus ended this little parable with words not at all parabolic: "Thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just." Clearly this was necessary because the parable itself contains nothing that can answer to the Final Recompense, even though there be a certain satisfaction in a consciousness of doing what is right and, maybe, in the thanks of those receiving the benefit. In that Day neither the satisfying memory of zealous labour nor the gratitude of those brought into the family of God through those labours will compare with the unspeakably greater blessing of being with Christ and invited by him to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

This expression: "the resurrection of the just," has been mistakenly read as implying that at the Lord's coming just and unjust will be raised separately. Indeed, on the strength of this passage, some would put back the resurrection of the unjust to the end of Messiah's millenial reign. This isolated phrase is too small a peg to carry such a heavy conclusion. It needs to be recognized that not infrequently in the New Testament "resurrection" is used in the sense of "resurrection to everlasting life" (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:21,42,52; Ph. 3:11;Mt. 22:30). Inany case, there are too many places where the Bible plainly couples together the resurrection of both classes (e.g. Dan. 12:2; Jn. 5:29; 12:48; Mt. 13:41,49).

At this meal to which Jesus had been invited, so far everything had tended to create a tense atmosphere. It is not unlikely, then, that with the idea of provoking more harmonious thoughts one of the guests gave voice to a pious platitude: "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God." He obviously thought that he would be there, or he wouldn't have said it. Even so, is it possible to imagine such a remark being made at a meal-table today? And, pious platitude or not, Jesus quotes this man in Revelation (19:9),

The allusion was, maybe, to the "feast of fat things" promised in one of Isaiah's finest Messianic prophecies (25:6).

The rejoinder of Jesus was as sombre as anything he had yet spoken in that house. That it should be so is a measure of the intense depression of spirit which lay on him because of i the many discouragements he encountered and the wearing abrasive criticism he had to put up with from Pharisees.

A parable of excuses

The parable he now told-lately well-named "the Parable of Excuses" (Leon Morris)—was designed to make these self-righteous men, so confident of their good standing in the sight of heaven, aware of the near certainty that they would not eat bread in the kingdom of God.

A man planned an evening dinner on a sumptuous scale for many of his friends. At the appropriate time he sent a servant with a reminder—this according to the custom of the time (cp. Esth. 5:8; 6:14). Instead of preparedness and pleasant anticipation, the servant met with one excuse after another; literally: "they all with one (voice) began to ask off" (general NT. usage of this verb is much stronger than this). It reads here as though they had agreed among themselves to evade attending the function.

One man had bought a farm and was going to inspect it—at supper time! Another had bought five yoke of oxen, and was going to try them out-at supper time! (contrast 1 Kgs. 19:19). Were these two really such fools as to invest an appreciable amount of capital without first making sure that the investment was worthwhile? Or is it that they were not averse to slighting their would-be host with trivial excuses which insulted his intelligence?

To evade attendance a third fell back one gross misapplication of the Law of Moses. It was laid down that a newly-married man should have exemption from military service and any arduous responsibility (Dt. 24:5-7; and note v.8). On the strength of this, his excuse, spoken out quite brazenly, was: "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come" (note v.26). He treated the invitation as though it were conscription! And he turned the Law's permission into an imperative. Yet all three of them had evidently accepted the invitation when it was first given and so were under a moral obligation to keep that evening free from other preoccupations.

These three were examples (like the three servants mentioned in the parable of the Pounds) of what was found to be true for all the rest (17:26-28; Mt. 22:5).

When the servant reported back to his master, very naturally it made him extremely angry-not an explosion of wrath (thumos), but a settled deliberate hostility (orgizo). "Lose no time ot all," he now instructed. "Go out into the city, and gather together any you find, whether poor, maimed, halt, or blind; and bring them for supper at my house" (cp. Acts 13:46).

So this was done. The poor, who could expect an invitation from no one; the maimed, who would probably never have a chance to marry; the blind, who could not see to inspect a farm; and the lame, who were useless with a team of oxen— these were brought in, instead. Even such people were not too disreputable. They needed the supper, but to be a success the supper also needed them. And what fellowship it would foster among them!

Yet still the banqueting hall was not full (14:22,23).

'Then go outside the city, and bring people in from the main roads and country lanes. Use every strong persuasion you can exercise to get them here'-for God's gospel, like His nature, abhors a vacuum. The servant was bidden use constraint to overcome the inevitable incredulity of these waifs and outsiders.

At this point the parable breaks off — far a reason which is not difficult to discern


The man in the parable is God Himself. The supper is the gospel of salvation intimated beforehand through His servants the prophets. Those invited were the chosen race. At the right time the servant (who surely represents Jesus himself; cp. 13:7) gave notice that now was the time for the great occasion of fellowship. But instead of joyful acceptance there was evasion of that which the nation had long declared itself to be eager for. That all made excuse is an expression of Christ's depressing conclusion that oil the privileged classes in Israel had turned their backs on him and would continue to do so. Therefore he had made his appeal to the despised sections of the community—the poor ana uneducated, the publicans and harlots. They had responded to a surprising extent (5:29). But the grace of God had room for many others as spiritually destitute as they. So the parable of Jesus prophesied that the divine invitation would also go to those outside, the Gentiles (Acts 13:46), and that their acceptance of the gospel would make up for the crude Jewish refusal.

The principle of the parable still applies. Today men still "ask off", pleading the claims of another field (Mt. 13:44), another yoke (Mt. 11:29), another betrothal feast (2 Cor. 11:2).

Expressing himself with very strong feeling, Jesus rounded off with a peremptory decision couched in terms of his almost self-evident parable: "I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper" (cp. Dt. 1:35). It was a further prophecy of the rejection of Israel. And how justified it was! Jesus had now made his appeal to every part of the nation. Nevertheless in Jerusalem and in every corner of the country he had been rejected—Galilee, Decapolis, the extreme north, Samaria, Perea, Judea. "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God"! Few of the nation showed any inclination to share that blessing.

The only one who came away from that meal-table in good spirits was the man who had been healed of his dropsy. The rest had been made gloomy and uneasy and maybe resentful by the severe words they had heard. And Jesus left that house dispirited and sick at heart that by neither word nor miracle could he make any impression on their armour-plated prejudices.

Notes: Lk. 14:1-24

On the sabbath day. The earlier sabbath day healings were:
1. The demoniac at Capernaum (Mk. 1:21).
2. Peter's mother-in-law (Mk. 1:29).
3. Thewithered hand (Mt. 12:9).
4. The paralytic at Bethesda (Jn. 5:10).
5. The man born blind (Jn. 9:14).
6. Thewoman 18 years bowed down (Lk. 13:14).
There were also: Matthew 12:1; Mark 1:21-31.
A certain man before him. The entire episode took place before the meal began: v.7.
Held their peace. In OT (LXX) this word usually means rest from war.
An ass (RV: son) or an ox. On manuscript evidence there is little to choose between AV and RV. And in Gk. and 'son' are markedly similar. If AV, was Jesus alluding to Dt. 5:14?
Lest. A touch of irony here; You are risking being invited back—and so the process goes on.
A great supper. There is nothing of this kind more important than the Love Feast.
I go to prove them implies: I'm just setting off.
Being angry. Cp. the anger of God in other parables: Mt. 18:34;22:7.

The halt and the blind Note 2Sam.5:8;but also 9:13.
And yet there is room. A different answer from 13:23, and yet not inconsistent with it.
Compel them. Of course this had to be moral constraint. Could one servant drive a crowd of such recruits, to make them come to the feast?
I say unto you. This can be read as the sponsor of the feast expressing his indignation to those who have already been brought in.

Those men. The first lot. The Gk. word implies men of consequence and privilege.

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