October 13, 2019
There is only one banquet for those who give up self-fulfillment.
I. The banquet is for the humble (Luke 14:1-14)
II. The banquet is for those too hungry to make excuses (Luke 14:15-24)
III. The banquet is for those willing to count the cost (Luke 14:25-35)
The DeGray family has never been real big on table etiquette. There are many things expected in formal dining that we just don’t do. Probably the worst of these is that I have not modeled restraint before a meal. I tend to snitch food, even before we sit down. If there are chips on the table, or veggies, I reach right over and get some. This is not good table manners. In fact the whole finger food thing is a problem. We do have some standards, after all, and I well remember telling my kids “no, soup is not finger food.” Another rule we tried to have was to sit in your chair and not put your legs up. I even made a little rhyme “two four six eight, keep your knees below your plate.”
God also has some rules for table etiquette. In Luke 14 Jesus spends time in a banquet talking about those rules, and showing that there is an eternal banquet for those who give up self-fulfillment. The first section shows that we should attend a banquet with humility. Let’s read the introduction first, verses 1-6: One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6And they could not reply to these things.
The set-up for the rest of the chapter is verse 1: Jesus goes to a meal, a banquet, a feast with a ruler of the Pharisees. It was customary to have a major meal on the Sabbath, typically the first, evening meal, so the food could be prepared the day before without breaking Sabbath. At this meal, Jesus is being carefully watched, maybe even set up, to see if he will again heal on the Sabbath. There is a man at the meal suffering from dropsy, “an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the body,” with painful distention and swelling.
Jesus begins with a question, shifting the burden of proof to the Pharisees. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not.” Healing was not prohibited in the laws of the Old Testament. But in the laws the rabbis had added, it was. They knew this distinction and so would not answer. During their silence, Jesus turned and healed the man. Then he said, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” Jesus repeats what he taught earlier, that mercy is more important than rule keeping The Sabbath was not intended to keep people from mercy and love.
This question of mercy is important enough to bear repetition, but the focus of the chapter quickly shifts to this new issue of table etiquette, and humility. Verses 7-14 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
There were places of honor in a Jewish banquet. The table would be U-shaped, low, and guests would recline. The place of honor would be at the bottom of the U, the center, followed by the right hand of that seat, and then the left. Everyone else scrambled to get close to these honored places. But Jesus says it isn’t smart to take a higher place. You’ll be humiliated if the host thinks you ought to move lower down, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”
This table etiquette is practical wisdom. In fact, the rabbis gave similar advice. But Jesus isn’t giving it to condone manipulation. He’s counseling humility. Verse 11: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is an axiom, a law of God’s dealing with men. We see it in the Old Testament, where the Psalmist says “The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.” Isaiah teaches that “this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Mary repeats the principle in the Magnificat and Jesus illustrates it through the Pharisee and the tax collector. And, Kent Hughes says, “Jesus’ axiom is equally penetrating today—because it is not believed! Washington, D.C. doesn't believe it. Listen to the egos. Professional athletes don’t believe it. Watch the posturing. Business executives do not believe it. There are no executive positions offered to the humble and lowly of heart. The church doesn’t believe either, whether it leans toward vestments, sedan chairs, and miters or toward designer suits, coifed hairdos, and telethons.”
And we probably don’t believe it. Someone told me recently about his friend who quit his job because “you are the average of the five people you spend most time with,” and “I don’t want to hang around poor people anymore.” In the face of that, do we believe that the practice of humility is really best for us?
Jesus gives a couple more practical examples of the practice of humility. Verse 12: “He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Jesus calls us to humility and mercy. Friends, brothers, relatives, or rich neighbors can pay you back, make your hospitality worthwhile. But if you invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind,” that’s mercy. It does not seek reward. Yet, Jesus says, “you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” God’s economy is so different. Investing yourself in the needs of others brings no economic reward in this life, but it brings blessing now and repayment in eternity.
So the first thing we learn about the banquet, is that it needs to be approached with humility. It’s not surprising that Jesus adds a related parable. Verses 15-24 teach that the banquet is for those too hungry to make excuses. When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20Another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22The servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23The master said to the servant, ‘Go to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
My grandmother, who lived with us from the time I was born, had some great sayings. She often said to me “You'd lose your head if it wasn't attached to your shoulders.” Which was probably true. As she ate one of her apple pies, she’d say “Well that's a pretty good pie, even if I do have to say so myself!”
I remember coming home from school, saying “I'm hungry,” and poking around the kitchen. She'd say "Well, you can have an apple" - No. "How about a piece of toast" - No. "How about a glass of milk" - No Then she'd say: "If you can't find anything you want, you're not really hungry" and she would shoo me out. God’s banquet is provision for those too hungry to make excuses.
One of those attending this meal points out how blessed it will be to eat at the feast in the kingdom of God. In Jewish thought, a banquet was often a symbol for the future kingdom. When I think of the return of Christ I might say “the last trumpet.” But a Jew would say “the banquet of the age to come.” So, when Jesus replies by saying "A certain man prepared a great banquet", you can be sure everyone in the room knew that the man was God and the banquet was the kingdom. The invited guests would be assumed to be the people of Israel.
Notice that these guests were invited twice. In Jewish village life, this makes sense. The first invitation is before you slaughter the animals, so that you how many are coming. Then when all was ready, you would send somebody a second time to gather the guests. In the context of conflict with the Jewish leaders, the first invitation is the prophecies of the Messiah. They were, or should have been, waiting for Messiah to come. But now Jesus himself has come, and he says “the banquet is ready, I’m here. Come now and feast in the kingdom of God.” Jesus taught that the kingdom is “now and not yet.” Yes, a future wedding banquet, but Jesus wants these people to embrace the now: to recognize him, and participate in his blessing. For us also, the banquet is now and not yet. We hunger for his return, a future wedding banquet. But do we also hunger to experience fully the banquet Jesus is already giving? Have we tasted his love and his presence, his joy and peace, his gift of the Spirit?
God's banquet is experienced by those too hungry to make excuses. Verse 18-20 comically highlight excuses. “The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ Anybody in a village who buys land knows months in advance every detail and everything on it. To pretend that this man bought it without having seen it is more unthinkable than you buying a house without walking through it. “Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ This is like buying five new cars without a test drive. It is even more unthinkable to the Jewish villager, to buy an ox like without a test drive. Many Palestinian villages have a spot near the market specifically intended for test driving oxen. The ludicrous excuse shows that this guy wanted to miss the banquet - and he wanted to insult and belittle the host. Even the third excuse is insincere: “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” In that culture, after the wedding, a couple’s social obligations actually increased. They had to come.
How do we understand these excuses? Well, God has prepared a banquet. God has prepared the Kingdom. He has sent his servant, Jesus, to offer that kingdom to those who were invited. This is pointed at the Pharisees. They were supposed to be awaiting the Messiah and his banquet. But when he came, what did they say? You can't be the Messiah: you're not a military leader. You can't be Messiah: you’re an unlearned Galilean You can't be Messiah: you violate the Sabbath. Their excuses were a cover up. They had a vested interest in their system and no hunger for something more, something real.
Like those people, we are sometimes very good at making excuses, rather than being hungry for the banquet God offers. But God invites you and me to come. To come in initial faith, believing the Lord Jesus Christ died to save us, and accepting his rescue. But then to keep coming to him for true fulfillment. We read this earlier in Isaiah 55: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
God has invited many to a great banquet and those who are hungry come. Verse 21 “So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’” God's invitation is compelling to those who are hungry. The master sends his servant out for the crippled, the poor, the lame, and the blind, the outcasts of society. The leaders had rejected Jesus and set themselves against him. But the outcasts welcomed him and followed him. Jesus invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, even tax collectors and sinners. These were the people he hung out with, hungry enough to embrace what he offered.
In fact, Christianity started as a religion of the poor and needy. Paul says to the Corinthians: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” James says “has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” The message of Christ spread in the lowest classes of the Roman world, and has always drawn the needy. And if we think of the Beatitudes, it is equally the poor in spirit who are hungry for this message. Finally, the invitation extends to Gentiles as well. Verse 22: “And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”
In verse 21 the outcasts were drawn from the village where the banquet took place. That would be Israel, the people to whom the promises were made. Here the Master sends the servant beyond the borders, into the country, in other words, to the Gentiles. We read Isaiah 25:6-9 earlier, and it said the banquet was for all peoples, all nations. This was affirmed by Jesus in chapter 13 “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.” In fact, there is only one group that doesn’t receive this promise. Verse 24 shows that for those who refuse the invitation, those who make excuses, there is no banquet. If you are not hungry, and you don't come, God will not force you. What of you and me? Are we hungry?
Finally, God’s banquet is for those who count the cost. Verses 25-35 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. 34“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Here are four qualities of the humble and hungry who come to the banquet. The first is they make discipleship the priority. Verse 26: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” What does Jesus mean when he says we ought to hate these people? He means we must love them less than him, give them lower priority. In Hebrew, hate can mean “love less.” In Genesis 29:31, taking of Rachel and Leah, Jacob's wives, the word is used, and translated like this: “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb” The Hebrew word usually means hated, but can also mean "unloved" or loved less by comparison. Also, Jesus frequently uses strong terminology and images for emphasis. Think of his image of the camel going through the eye of the needle, or putting out your eye for purity.
Or the image he uses here, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” That image doesn't shock us, but it would shock his listeners. Taking up your cross meant death. Jesus spoke in striking images. Kent Hughes said: “Jesus' meaning is that the love the disciple has for him must be so great that the best earthly love is hatred by comparison.” Another commentary said “The interests of God's kingdom must be paramount with the followers of Jesus, and everything else must take second place to them, even family ties.” We don’t want to de-emphasize family. But are we really serving our family if we are not wholeheartedly following Jesus?
Humble, hungry people make Jesus as first priority, and this requires counting the cost of full commitment, verses 28-30 “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” This tower is a major structure, a commitment of time and money. The builder wisely sits down and considers, calculates, reckons if he can afford to pay for the tower, to complete it, or be shamed by the failure. How does this translate into the Christian life? It’s realism. It’s recognizing that the life of faith is not a cure for difficulties and costs, but a commitment to follow Jesus no matter what the cost. It’s a humble, hungry intention to lay down self-fulfillment and work to fulfill his kingdom tasks.
And the stakes are high, as in war. Verses 31 “Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” Here the king is being invaded. The other king comes against him. But he’s outnumbered two to one. Does he believe he can win the battle, or will he concede to the enemy? The truth is we follow Jesus against odds. The enemy holds all the cards: the power of the culture, the habits of our sinful nature, the reality of temptation. Only humble, hungry, fully committed disciples can expect substantial victory. But we can expect it.
Jesus summarizes in verse 33 “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Remember the context: there is a banquet, a great feast, a now-and-not-yet eternal reward. But if we’re satisfied with what we have and cannot give it up to come to the feast, we are lost. As C. S. Lewis said “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
And we’re not sure we can make the long term commitment. Verse 34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The follower of Jesus is like salt, which is good as long as it retains its flavor. The salt in first century Palestine was not pure, and if it got wet the sodium chloride that gives taste would leach out, leaving only tasteless and useless minerals. That can happen to us. In Matthew’s parallel saying it’s applied to the influence Jesus’ followers have on the world. As long as his followers are “salty,” humble, hungry and committed, they have beneficial influence, but if they’ve lost their “saltiness” they are useless. Counting the cost is not a one-time thing. Discipleship is an ongoing and daily effort follow Jesus, to be his in the little daily things as well as the big battles
And the only way to accomplish this is to actually go to the banquet. As we close, I want to spend half a minute partially unpacking the metaphor. The banquet is a metaphor, especially the now banquet in our daily lives. But what is it a metaphor for? Biblically there are two ways of looking at it. First, it’s Jesus. He says “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” The banquet is being with and trusting Jesus. He satisfies our hunger and thirst. A key spiritual discipline for this is prayer, both speaking and listening. As Thomas Horton said “The life of our life consists in our communion with God, which we maintain not only by set performances of prayer, morning and evening . . . But we maintain this communion more especially by a daily, and hourly, and frequent, and constant lifting up of our hearts to God in sighs and groans, and so follow him, as that we will not let him go, or be one moment out of our sights.” Jesus is the banquet and we come to the banquet and receive it through prayer.
The second thing a banquet is a metaphor for is the Word. Deuteronomy teaches and Jesus affirms that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The Psalmist says “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Jeremiah says “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” The word is sweet food for our souls, but far too often we find ourselves in the place the prophets warned against, where there is a famine for the Word of the Lord. This need not be. The nourishment is waiting, but it’s not fast food. It does require a little work with a knife and a fork.
There are other things, especially worship and fellowship that feed our souls. Won’t you come, in practical everyday discipline, to this banquet? Come in humility, come hungry, come committed, and the banquet is yours, now and in eternity.