Summary: Jesus ate with all kinds of sinners, including the Pharisees. One such occasion is recorded in Luke 14:1-14. In this lesson we'll examine the disastrous dinner with a focus of learning who will sit around the Lord's table.
The meal table is the main social center of the home. Think of some of your warmest memories and many of them will be associated with meal-time. In our text, the entire passage is centered around and on a meal table. The great question discussed was who will sit around God’s table in the kingdom? The Pharisees had one idea and obviously, Jesus had another.
The Setting (v. 1a):
Following the Sabbath day activities at a local synagogue, Jesus “went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees” (v. 1a).[i] Luke is the only gospel writer to include accounts of Jesus eating with Pharisees (cf. 7:36; 11:37). In each of these situations the motives for inviting Jesus were less than honorable. Rather than being occasions for friendly conversation and warm hospitality these meals where punctuated by hostility and contempt on the part of the Pharisees and this meal would be no different.
The Setup (vv. 1b-6):
As Jesus entered the home, the other invited guests, “were watching Him carefully” (v. 1b). With great emphasis Luke declares, “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy” or as the NIV renders it, “abnormal swelling of his body” (v. 2). This is the only record of this disease in the New Testament and quite appropriate coming from the pen of the physician (ref. Colossians 4:14). This poor, pitiful man was not invited out of goodwill; rather, he was a pawn in the Pharisee’s game to entrap Jesus. On a previous occasion, “the scribes and Pharisees watched Him, to see whether He would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse Him” (Luke 6:7).
The Pharisees believed healing on the Sabbath violated the fourth commandment’s prohibition of not working on the seventh day (ref. Exodus 20:8-11). “‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’” (v. 3; cf. Luke 6:9) Jesus asked. Uninterested in a theological discussion, or coming to a proper understanding of God’s will for Sabbath keeping “they remained silent” (v. 4a). Their one and only goal was entrapping Jesus. Without waiting for the Pharisees to respond, Jesus graciously, took the man, “healed him and sent him away” (v. 4b).
With the man gone, our Lord asked a second question of the Pharisees, “‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on the Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’” (v. 5).[ii] The Lord defended Sabbath healings by showing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ own actions (cf. Luke 13:15-16). No matter what the Pharisees taught or demanded of others, they made exceptions for themselves. They believed it was permissible for them to help a fallen animal or family member on the Sabbath day. Therefore, should not the same principle be applied to all suffering people as well? Our Lord’s argument silenced the naysayers, “And they could not reply to these things” (v. 6; cf. Luke 13:17). The apostle John reasoned, that because of Jesus’ Sabbath day healings the Jewish leaders, “were persecuting [him… and] were seeking all the more to kill him” (John 5:16, 18; cf. Luke 6:11).
Jesus Rebuked the Guest (vv. 7-11):
In this less than welcoming atmosphere, the guest clamored to “chose the places of honor” (v. 7a) around the table. In the ancient Jewish world, where a person sat at a feast or in the synagogue was a public advertisement of one’s status or at least perceived status. Therefore, the matter of seating arrangements was carefully considered. One might presume to claim a more honorable seat with the hope that it (and the honor that went with it) might be granted.[iii] Kistmaker explains the scene noting,
“Couches at a feast were arranged in the shape of an elongated horseshoe consisting of a number of tables. The man receiving the highest honor was at the head table, with second and third places to the left and right of this person. Every couch accommodated three people, with the middle man receiving the highest honor. The couch to the left of the head table was next in order of priority, and after that the couch to the right. Consequently, Jewish guests were governed by the social etiquette of the day to find the correct place at the table. However, if the privilege of choosing seats was given to the invited guest, they could very well display selfishness, conceit and pride. And this is exactly what happened at the house of the prominent Pharisee to which Jesus was invited. Pharisees and experts of the Law had created a climate of haughtiness and arrogance, devoid of love and humility.”[iv]
It would take little imagination to picture which seat was left for our Lord. No doubt the lowest, least honorable place around the table would have been reserved for Him. On more than one occasion Jesus rebuked the Pharisee’s arrogant attitude regarding places of honor (ref. Luke 11:43; 20:46). This particular day was no different; taking note of the social jockeying, Jesus “told a parable” (v. 7b) about humility to these haughty guest that was strikingly similar to the wisdom of Proverbs 25:6-7. His instruction took the form of two parallel lines contrasting what not to do and what to do when invited to a feast.