Summary: We are administrators of the grace of God. As followers of the Master, it is anticipated that we will reflect His compassion and generosity toward others.

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [1]

Instant gratification marks contemporary society; people want immediate fulfilment. I have heard people complain because it required a full minute to reheat a cup of coffee in the microwave. A drive for instant wealth fuelled the stock markets to incredible heights in the late nineties and in 2008. Whereas Canadians were once a nation of “savers,” we have today become a nation of debtors.

Personal gratification appears to be the driving motive for far too many actions witnessed in contemporary society. Even Christians are caught up in this irrational exuberance. We worship, singing the songs we enjoy—selections chosen because of rhythm and melody instead of being concerned about their theological expression. We sing, seeking personal gratification rather singing from desire to honour the Lord. Participation in the work of the Faith is too often motivated by a desire for recognition. We give, anticipating that we will obtain some immediate benefit. Televangelists have taught us that rewards are our due and the rewards sought are immediate. Much of the labour of contemporary Christians is performed with an eye on the moment instead of looking toward eternity.

None should question that God is a gracious and a just Master; He knows our labours and He has pledged to reward those labours that are worthy of His Name. While we may argue that anticipation of rewards is not a proper motive for serving Christ the Lord, God seems to be unimpressed by our scruples. Nevertheless, some Christians have focused on serving solely for what they can receive, instead of focusing on the honour of service to God, as taught by the Master. Therefore, such Christians anticipate immediate repayment for their service. God alone is able to recognise motives for service, but we may be assured that He does know the motive for every service presented in His Name.

THE BACKGROUND TO THE MESSAGE — Since so many of the incidents recorded in the Gospel accounts are unfamiliar to newer Christians, and since it is always helpful to review familiar stories to ensure that nothing is neglected, it will no doubt be helpful for us to review this pericope in order to ensure that each of us fully understand the events that elicited this teaching from Jesus.

The ministry of the Master was marked by conflict from the beginning. Especially incensed at His teaching were civic and religious leaders. Divided by worldview, they were nevertheless united against every threat to their tenacious hold on power. Jesus, through His emphasis that man is created to be free before God, was a threat to their position and to their power. Therefore, they sought to discredit Him.

Consequently, the Master frequently cautioned His followers not to fall into the trap of the Pharisees, which was “telling” but not “doing.” For instance, reviewing the preceding chapters, we are informed that Jesus cautioned against the great sin of the Pharisees—hypocrisy [LUKE 12:1-3]. He followed this up with a call to fear God instead of fearing man [LUKE 12:4-7]. Thus, those who fear God will acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ [LUKE 12:8-12]. He related the story of the rich fool [LUKE 12:13-21], taught the people not to live in anxiety [LUKE 12:22-34] and instructed His followers to be ready for His return [LUKE 12:25-48].

He called all to repentance, warning that those who failed to repent would perish [LUKE 13:1-5], compared Israel to a barren fig tree [LUKE 13:6-9], healed a woman on the Sabbath [LUKE 13:10-17] (a most grievous offence in the estimate of the Pharisees), and then related several parables and clear warnings to those who were religious, but lost [LUKE 13:18-35].

Yet another man was healed on the Sabbath [LUKE 14:1-6], which again distressed the religious leaders. Jesus also accepted an invitation to a banquet in His honour, and insulted the other guests by noticing how they were jockeying for position [LUKE 14:7-11]. He followed this up with the parable that serves as the focus of our study for this day.

Throughout these events, conflict and stress marked the relationship of Jesus and the religious leaders. They seem to have been hoping that He could be co-opted so they would be able to strengthen their position in the estimate of the people, but He would not play their game. His every action was scrutinised and criticised, especially because the religious leaders exalted religious observance over transformation. Every parable He told stung those leaders because it exposed the unworthy nature of their actions.

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