[September 6, 2009] Since chapter 9 of Luke Jesus has been on His last journey to Jerusalem, a journey that He knows will end in His death and resurrection. It is the way of the cross. Along the way He teaches: teachings given to changing audiences but that Luke has arranged for us, to teach those listening to the Gospel in the churches. After lessons on salvation and the Christian life, our mission and our situation vis-à-vis society, and our accountability to the Savior in chapters 10-12, Jesus then speaks about the coming judgment of Jerusalem and the Jews in Palestine, and the universality of God’s ultimate judgment on everyone—we are not to be fooled by the historic judgment that falls on others. This situation, living under the judgment of God, is the condition on which the Gospel meets us.
In chapter 14 our attention turns to the Gospel again. Here we meet the Pharisees and lawyers (Torah scholars), those who have the teachings of Moses and who are supposed to be the shepherds of Israel. We also see the common people, the sheep who flock to Jesus. And in the middle we see Jesus, the faithful Shepherd of Israel.
Healing a Man on the Sabbath (Luke 14:1-6)
In the first story, Jesus is eating in the home of a prominent Pharisee—notice how much of the mission takes place in the home!—when a man with a huge swelling in the joints comes to Him. Perhaps the Pharisees invited the man to put Jesus on the spot, to see what He would do. Jesus heals the man, and then exposes their hypocrisy.
Please notice that Jesus is not rejecting the Sabbath laws—and thereby the entire law of Moses—by His action. Those Pharisees in the school of Hillel would have had no problem with Jesus’ action; only those in the school of Shammai would have condemned Him.
What Jesus is rejecting (as in 13:10-17) is the attitude that interprets the Torah in a way that is self-serving. They would rescue their own donkey or ox but not a fellow human who was suffering. Jesus told His disciples earlier, “Be full of compassion, even as your Father also is full of compassion” (6:36). Our compassion must not be restricted by the need to maintain our “righteousness”: this is just self-righteousness, our need to justify ourselves or maintain some sort of status in the eyes of others.
These Pharisees were putting themselves and their own interests first. They were using their status as leaders for their own profit. But whenever we are put in a position of responsibility, even if it is simply by virtue of having more than others, we need to use our responsibility for the sake of others, not as a means of privilege.
Like most miracle stories, this one also is a sign. It signifies more than the actual literal incident. The Messianic “Year of Jubilee” that Jesus inaugurated in 4:21 at the beginning of His public ministry is a kind of “super” Sabbath. A Sabbatical year was every seventh year and the Jubilee falls on the year following seven sets of seven years. It is a year of liberation and restoration. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, it symbolizes His Messianic work, the bringing of salvation.
The Wrong and the Right Attitude (14:7-11)
In the following parable Jesus speaks to the others who were also invited to eat in the house of the Pharisee, apparently the friends of the Pharisees, the same people who condemned Jesus’ healing the man on the Sabbath. Jesus takes Proverbs 25:6-7 and applies it to a wedding feast. Of course, there is a moral lesson about humility and arrogance (verse 11), but Jesus is applying this lesson to Himself as the Savior versus these others, those who possessed the privileged knowledge of the Torah who should have placed the needs of the sick man before their own “righteous” status.
Jesus is the kind of leader that puts Himself in “the last place.” Those who would lead must identify with the lowest, not chummy with the highest. In the world we are often told that to climb up the ladder of success (and thus social status), we must make the right associates. “It is not what you know but who you know.” Likewise, people in religious circles often brag about who they know. They can climb up the ladder of influence. This is worldly. Jesus says that He does the opposite. At least when it comes to the Gospel, when it comes to the church, when it comes to spirituality, when it comes to having influence with God and to earning a place in the kingdom, we should seek the lowest place.
When Jesus did this, when He emptied Himself of His divine privileges and took “the form of a slave, becoming in the likeness of men,” and as a human being, “humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the [ignoble] death of a cross,” then “God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus did not do this so that we do not have to. We must also have the same mentality. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is always our model. Our exaltation in the kingdom depends on our humbling ourselves just as Jesus did. If we exalt ourselves we will lose our reward.
The wedding feast to which Jesus refers (verse 8) is the feast of salvation—the Messianic feast to which all are invited. The Pharisees who were overly concerned about their own righteousness, did so in order to exalt themselves at the Table. But instead of exalting themselves in the eyes of God, they only succeeded in abasing themselves.
Being Repaid in the Resurrection (14:12-14)
In verse 12 the subject seems to change, but Jesus has still not forgotten the man whom He healed. The Pharisees are not taking care of those in their charge but seem only interested in inviting their friends to God’s feast, people who can return their favors. Jesus uses the selective way they practice hospitality to illustrate their failure as leaders in the kingdom of God.
Just as Jesus invites the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to the feast of salvation, people who can in no way repay Him, we ought to practice the same generosity. When we share the Gospel with others, we should not hold back, choosing only those who are like us or who can benefit us. The “poor and crippled and lame and blind” (verses 13 and 21), those who are handicapped in the material and physical planes, are used to signify those who are deficient in the moral and spiritual planes, namely the sinners. After that, even the pagans (the gentiles or non-Jews) are invited (verse 23).
If we do things for the sake of the reward that we will receive from men, we will have no reward from our Father in heaven (see Matthew 6:2-6, 16-18). As in Luke 11-12, it is the reality of the Father that matters, not that of society. We need to live consciously before His presence rather than on display before others (to win their approval or because we fear their reprisal).
Jesus, our example who shows us the way, was rewarded in the resurrection ahead of all others, as the “first-fruits of the harvest.” As He was rewarded with exaltation in His resurrection, so we will be rewarded in the resurrection of the (actual) righteous. (The resurrection of the righteous precedes the universal resurrection.) The reward is delayed. While we have it inwardly before God, its manifestation is delayed for after this life. The reality of Christ’s own resurrection and our inward life in communion with Him and before the Father is what sustains us and gives us the assurance we need.
While Jesus offered this advice to the Pharisees, who had the means of salvation in their hands (namely, the Torah) and were not therefore excluded from salvation (though they needed to repent), Luke passes this on to us for our own instruction. It has to do with the mission of the church.
The Generosity of the Invitation (14:15-24)
As one of the guests said (not all of them were antagonistic to Jesus!), we might expect that everyone would want to come to the feast of the kingdom of God—the feast of salvation. But Jesus says this is not the case. In fact, those who are first invited cannot even be bothered! They all make excuses. Who are these? These are not only the Pharisees and scribes but all the good people who keep the Torah, those who attend synagogue. They are all preoccupied.
When the announcement goes out, “Come, for all things are now ready,” this refers to the coming of the Messiah and the invitation is the Gospel. But one is preoccupied with his property, another with his work, and another with his family. They cannot come. So Jesus deliberately seeks out those who are excluded: the unclean, the prostitutes, the tax-collectors, and all the sinners. They are available. Is that not interesting?
In the Acts of the Apostles, the Gospel first goes to the Jews, first in Palestine and then to those outside the land of Israel. It also goes to the Samaritans and the proselytes. When that was not enough (“still there is room”), the Gospel goes to the pagans, the non-Jews.
The invitation of the Gospel is extremely generous. All are invited. We hear the invitation and we—the crowd—all flock to Jesus, but the Torah-abiding Jews are not the only ones who are preoccupied. We may also not be ready for what Jesus offers!
The Cost of Discipleship (14:25-35)
In verse 25 Jesus turns to the crowds who want to follow Him. But in effect He says, “Not so fast!” You all want to eat at the feast, but you need to count the cost. Do not be so quick to sign the decision card or to say the “sinner’s prayer.” It is not about getting a Jesus tattoo or slapping the label “Christian” on yourself. You must so un-occupy that you must “hate” your own parents and spouse and children to do so. To hate means you must hate not them but the obligation that would cause you to put them before the Gospel and the demands of the kingdom. Neither parents nor spouse nor children can preoccupy you, nor can the demands of property or work. You must even hate your soul (all the things by which you identify yourself and with which you identify; in other words, your constructed “self”). Otherwise, you cannot be a disciple of Christ.
Jesus is not the only one who must carry the cross, we must all carry our own cross. Our “cross” does not mean the things we suffer. This pietistic identification of the cross with suffering goes back to the late middle ages. The cross is our obedience to the will of God resulting in the death of our soul. It may result in suffering, but the emphasis is on two things: obedience to God’s will and the termination of our soul, our constructed self as part of the world. If the Gospel is to free us from our enslavement to the powers of the world, we need to die to the “self” by which we identify with the world.
This means we need to have an entirely new relationship with our property, our work and our family, one defined by our relationship to Jesus. He is our occupation. These others things all have to come second and be defined by our obedience to Jesus.
What then is the cost of discipleship? “Everyone of you who does not forsake all his own possessions cannot be My disciple” (verse 33). Does that mean we must own nothing? St. Francis thought so. But probably it means we must be attached to nothing, to have it as if we did not own it and had no right of our own to it.
What does it mean to be thus occupied with Jesus? It means that personally, our spiritual life of prayer and submission to Christ through the Word must take priority to all our other concerns; socially, our commitment to the church must take priority to all other social involvements, including family; and in the world, our concern for the poor and suffering must take priority to our own advancement, and we must confess Jesus even to our own hurt.
Jesus tells us like it is, even though it is so hard to hear. This is the salt on the feast of salvation. It is full of flavor. The leaders of Israel are also supposed to be like salt. Since they fail the people, they have lost their flavor and are good for nothing.
If we become a Christian but do not pay the cost of discipleship, we are like salt that has lost its flavor. We will be disciplined when Jesus comes and miss the reward of the kingdom in the resurrection.