“When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, or rich neighbours … No, when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind …” (Luke 14: 12. 13)
The gospel of Luke presents Jesus as a very natural social person, Who loved to dine, eat and drink with friends (always with the enemies watching to trap Him on any misspoken words and/or any mistaken actions). This is the third time, so far, we find Jesus at meal in one of the Pharisee’s house (7: 36; 11: 37). The setting is a very familiar one: it is “on a Sabbath day.” Who does not like to go out for a meal on a Sabbath afternoon (Sunday afternoon) after Mass or the Sunday Service. It is always a holiday, the mood is always more relaxed, and with good company, the meal even tastes more delicious as time runs in comfortable gaiety. So on this afternoon, Jesus is in the house of a notable Pharisee, in fact a “ruler”, who belonged to the Pharisee sect. Ordinarily, the Pharisees were the leading religious sect among the Israelites of the time. They were highly respected for their piety and fidelity to the law; they were held in very high esteem by the other Jews. It would seem that, being a man of high standing status, there must have been other high ranking members of the Pharisees also invited. And as Jesus sat there, He watched them take their seats at the table. Jesus loved to watch – later in the gospel, He will watch them as they put their gifts in the treasury in the Temple (Mark 12 41-44; Luke 21: 1-4). He always sees something different. For God sees what no man can see – He sees the heart and not just the action (1 Samuel 16: 7).
“He then told the guests a parable, because He had noticed how they picked places of honour”: One of the problems of the Pharisees was always wanting to be seen and noticed by others. They were very vain. Jesus had always condemned this attitude unequivocally calling them “hypocrites.” (Matthew 6: 5-15; 23: 1-8, 13-39; Luke 12: 1-3). The action that called for the parable today was nothing different from their default inclination: namely, picking the places of honour. The Greek word used here is “protoklisias” which means “first spots” or “first seats.” In other words, they picked the first spots or seats in order to be conspicuously seen, and perhaps favoured in the share of the meal. The parable of Jesus here is very different from almost all His other parables, which are usually a story or an allegory. This seems more like an exhortation woven in an ethical maxim that twists the hitherto normal behaviour on its head. To take the “lowest seat” is not something that the Pharisees would accept as normal but Jesus sets that as a standard for exaltation here on earth and for the Kingdom of God. The exhortation: “When you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there” has double advantage. First, it would save one from embarrassment, making him to be respected and recognised by others, when the host comes and says: “My friend, move up higher”; secondly and similarly, he would be exalted here on earth and also in heaven: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23: 12; Luke 14 11). Jesus’ exhortation here echoes the writing of Ben Sirach in the First Reading (Ecclesiasticus 3: 17- 20. 28-29): “The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly, and then you will find favour with the Lord; for great though the power of the Lord, He accepts the homage of the humble” (Ecclesiasticus 3: 20). What Ben Sirach and Jesus are reminding us today is that by making ourselves small, we shall be great; by making ourselves great we shall be lowered and embarrassed. They are telling us that pride and the search for personal recognition and accolades only lead to frustration and self-delusion; and sadly, eternal damnation. Jesus Christ is not throwing some moral codes on etiquette at us but He is teaching us what He lived and exemplified. St. Paul reminds us of Christ’s humility when he wrote: “Jesus, though He was God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant … And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” The humility of Christ accorded Him an exaltation, just as He taught us. Paul adds: “Therefore, God has highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name above all names …” (Philippians 2: 6-11). This is the life that each of us is called to live. A life that is self-emptying; of being a servant: not seeking human recognition; and not exalting the self.
“When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, or rich neighbours … No, when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind …”: This second parable was intended for the host. We dare to say that the challenge here, even for us today, is a very difficult one. For it would not only look odd to invite only those on the fringes of society to a lunch or dinner, but it would be more out of place to exclude family members and friends. Did Jesus really mean that? Let us get it right: Jesus is not in any way condemning, or against family coming together for a meal, or friends bonding, or having rich neighbours and eating with them. He is rather against the idea of inviting these ones in expectation of a repayment of the invitation, which, if and when they do, would render your good action useless in the sight of God. He is cautioning us against embarking on a wasted good action. This is the reason He proposes: “when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” The value of this charitable action lies in the blessing that is to come: “… that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again” (Luke 14: 14). The focus of Jesus is not just on the lunch or dinner: He goes far beyond the present to the future, to eternity. He is using the forum of the earthly meal to speak to us about the eternal banquet in heaven. For us Christians, all our actions should be carried out in the hope of the eternal reward. The exhortation to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” is a call to participate in the mission of the Messiah, Who came to proclaim the good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and to heal the lame (Luke 4: 18; 7: 22). Jesus is calling us to act in imitation of God, Who Psalmist proclaims as the Father of the orphan, Defender of the widow; Who gives the lonely a home, and leads the prisoners forth into freedom” (Psalm 67). Like God, we are called to stand on the side and beside those on the fringe of society, to give them a sense of worth and dignity, and to be the “voice of the voiceless.” This is the standard that Jesus gives us today as a way of storing up treasures for ourselves in heaven (Matthew 6: 19-21; Mark 10: 21; Luke 12: 33-34).