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August 2 - Luke 14:7-24 - "A Memorable Meal"
MPC 2nd August 2009.
If you're a Qweekend reader in the Saturday Courier Mail, I wonder do you read the On the Couch interview on page 3? It's one of those 20 questions kind of columns where they talk to a semi celebrity and find out what makes them tick. So last week it was Marcia Hines whose first job was a nurses aid, and whose worst habit is shopping. But one question I always find interesting, and they often ask it, is name five people, living or dead, who you'd like to invite to dinner. Five people you'd like to sit round and chat with over a nice glass of wine.
And so Marcia Hines lists the people living or dead she'd invite to dinner as Michael Jackson, who may have actually changed categories since the interview, the late soul singer Luther Vandross, and Vincent van Gogh.
Interesting list. But the fascinating thing I've noticed as a regular reader, is the number of people who say they'd invite Jesus Christ to dinner, along with people like Karl Marx and Aristotle and Orlando Bloom. I guess they're thinking it would be quite an intellectually stimulating party. Apart from Orlando Bloom.
But I wonder if you read Luke's gospel beforehand you might start to think inviting Jesus to dinner may not be a great idea. If you follow through Luke's gospel, here in chapter 14 is actually the fifth time Luke records Jesus at a dinner party. And almost every time, it's a social disaster. Almost every time, Jesus does or says something confronting. And impolite. Chapter 7 verse 36 at a Pharisees house where a call girl tips perfume on his feet, and Jesus defends her. Chapter 11 verse 37, dinner at another Pharisee's house where Jesus doesn't wash his hands properly, and then tell his host that it's actually him who's the unclean one. Unclean in the heart.
It's like inviting Jesus along is a recipe for embarrassment.
Every time there's a dinner party, something embarrassing happens. Which I think might be what Louise says it's like going out to dinner with me. Using the wrong knife for the entrée. Spilling red wine on the cream carpet. Except with Jesus, it's never an accident. With Jesus, it's the very direct way he confronts people. No matter whose house it is, no matter what the occasion, Jesus is prepared to tell it like it is. Especially to the Pharisees. Who are preoccupied with appearances; who are hung up with looking right and proper and good, when the reality is they're not.
So here we are in chapter 14 in the house of another prominent pharisee. As we saw last week, it starts with a trap, and an icy silence.
The Pharisees are watching Jesus, they're tracking his every move. They've set up a trap to see if he'll again heal someone on the sabbath day, which without hesitation he does. Taunting them with the words, is it legal to heal on the sabbath, or not?
And the Pharisees have got nothing to say.
And so after that great beginning, it's time to sit down and eat.
We were at a wedding last week, and very conveniently as you'll usually find at a wedding reception there's a board at the front with a seating plan. Now I imagine from time to time you might get a horror guest at a wedding who decides they'd rather ignore the seating plan and sit at the bridal table instead of the place they've been given. Although if it did happen, it would be very socially awkward, wouldn't it?
Well, I gather there's no actual seating plan on a board at the Pharisee's house, but it's socially awkward anyway. Especially because Jesus points it out. Here are these dinner guests, they're jostling around the table trying to get the best spots for themselves. They're pushing for the places of honour. Because above all, they want to get in the social pages. They want to be on the A-list.
And so Jesus tells them a parable. It's a parable on one level about a wedding feast. But on another level is actually a picture of the kingdom banquet - God's final party - which is really the only party Jesus is interested in. So be alert to the fact that while on Level A Jesus is critiquing the way the Pharisees are pushing for positions, on Level B, he's warning them about their standing with God. Because the two things are connected.
See, the point is, if you're pretentious about your place in the Kingdom, if you're thinking you can push yourself forward and say look at me in the presence of God, if you think God is going to be in some way impressed by your performance, think again.
So here's the parable. Read from verse 7.
When he sees how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he tells them this parable: He says, "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, don't take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place."
Now, we've heard Jesus say this kind of thing before. Last week in chapter 13, he says people you never expected are going to be part of the Kingdom. And if things don't change, you Pharisees will be shut out. You guys who think you're so impressive, you guys who want to be first, you're going to be very last.
And of course, the way they're pushing round the dinner table is just a symptom of that. How embarrassing it's going to be... you think you belong on the bridal table, you've sat yourselves down in the best seats... when the reality is, they're booked for someone else. Someone much more distinguished. Who you've probably never noticed.
If you've ever asked yourself the question who are the great ones in the Kingdom of God, here's a hint. It's the ones who put themselves at the back of the line. It's the ones who have no pretensions. Who aren't pretending to be something that they're not. It's the ones who are washing your dishes after church morning tea, who aren't always saying what's in it for me... they're the ones who'll be honoured by God. Listen again. Verse 10.
But when you're invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he'll say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.
Here's the kicker. Verse 11. Here's the simple principle the Pharisees and so many who come after them haven't caught on to. Luke's been telling us from chapter 1 that Jesus has been sent to turn the way the world thinks upside down. To turn the way the Pharisees of Israel think... upside down. Verse 11.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Which of course in a few chapters' time, Jesus will model for us to perfection. As he humbles himself to be whipped and abused and nailed to a cross for the blasphemy of being the son of God. And is three days later raised from the dead. To show once and for all who had God's approval.
Now I wonder if you're someone who likes a bit of self exalting? Who gets irate if people don't notice you. Hold that thought. And we'll come back to it.
But back to the dinner. And again, confrontingly, Jesus pokes a hole right through the pharisee attitude. Bad enough if he'd just said, look, you've burnt the steak. Bad enough if he'd criticised the pharisee's taste in furnishings. What Jesus does is critique the whole attitude. The social climbing culture of wanting to be seen with all the right people, the selfish culture of only mixing with people who are easy for you or fun for you or advantaging you. Which you see is not God's way at all.
See, they're looking for payback in this life. Whereas Jesus has got a longer view. They're only asking "what will people think?" Jesus asks the bigger question, "What will God think?" We're picking up from verse 12.
Then Jesus says to his host, "When you do lunch or throw a dinner party, don't invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind..."
Invite the people who can't pay you back. Invite the people nobody else notices. Invite the kind of people you don't even want to sit with. And then, verse 14,
...and you will be blessed. Although they can't repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Can you see for Jesus, the prospect of the final resurrection is very real, isn't it? Jesus really believes that you and I are going to be raised on the last day to answer to God. So much so that it's at the forefront of his attention.
It's not at the forefront of ours, is it? We're not often thinking of the account we'll give to God. We're not thinking of the final reward. We want the rewards now. In all kinds of ways. We're thinking 99 percent of the time about the short term payback and most times hardly at all about the long view. Which is the sort of thinking that leads to a global financial crisis, isn't it? Let me tell you, it's a far bigger problem when you face up to God and there's nothing in your account.
Because you were too busy. Or because you just couldn't see past the present. Or because you were so busy heaping up present rewards that there was just no time for anything else. Or anyone else.
Which leads us to the next serve of dinner. Not the dessert. But one more thing Jesus is going to dish up for the Pharisees.
He's just mentioned the resurrection of the righteous. And one of the guys at the table says, I can hardly wait. He says "Blessed is the man," verse 15, "who'll eat at the feast in the kingdom of God." He says, won't it be good!
But then Jesus says this. Broadside number 3. He says there was this man preparing a huge party. And he's invited lots of guests. And so when it's ready, he sends his servant to tell everyone to come.
Come and eat. Everything's ready.
But just when the spit roast is done to perfection they've all got these lame excuses. Sorry, I've got to go and look at my new paddock. Sorry, I've just bought this new five ox power tractor and I've got to try it out. Or lamest of all. I just got married. My wife won't let me.
So verse 21, the servant comes back to his master and says, everyone's too busy. Everyone's doing something else. No one can come. So then "the owner of the house gets angry and orders his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'"
If the invited guests don't want to join in the party, we'll get the people everyone else ignores. And the servant says, I've done that already. There's still room.
And the master says, well, go out to the country lanes. Go where-ever you can. And make them come in, so my house will be full. And here's the sting. "I tell you", verse 24, "not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet."
Why not? Because when Jesus comes to tell them it's time for the kingdom of God to break in, when the homeowner sends his servant to say now's the time... they say... we've got better things to do. These Pharisees who are so pretentious, these Pharisees who are so busy critiquing when he heals on a Sabbath, these Pharisees who are so busy policing the rules... they've got no time for Jesus at all. When he's the one with the invitation to the party. The guy says blessed is the man who'll eat in the feast of the kingdom of God. And again, Jesus is saying the problem is, you guys won't be there. It's going to be a full house. Full of the kind of people you've always ignored. It'll be the humble people, it'll be the strugglers, it's be the lame and unimpressive and poor and sickly and blind. And when we've packed them in, it'll be the people from the highways and byways and lanes and back tracks that are anywhere but Israel. They'll come from all over. And you guys will be so busy checking your fences or harnessing your horses or checking how many admirers you've got on Facebook, you'll be so busy with other stuff that makes you feel important that you'll ignore the invitation. And be left outside.
Like last week. Make sure you get in the door before the house owner shuts you out. People will come from the east and west and north and south and take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God while you yourselves will be thrown out. Those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.
And now again in chapter 14. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. And he who humbles himself will be exalted. Blind and lame and country roads will come; and the Pharisees and law-teachers and the proud of heart are excluding themselves by their incredibly poor choices. And incredibly messed up priorities.
Now this is going to become a familiar theme through the next few weeks, and that's to notice that since Jesus spoke these words, there's been a lot of water go under the bridge. And of course, exactly what he said would happen... did happen.
In their power the Pharisees and Teachers of the law killed him; God raised him. And crushed them. And now people from the country lanes and byways like you and me are the ones invited to the Kingdom banquet.
Which means again we need to make very sure we're not making all the same mistakes made by those who came before.
First of all, can I remind you that we're not here because we're impressive. Ask God for the five people he'd invite to dinner, and it's not going to be the best thinkers and the most creative artists. It's going to be the humble of heart.
I mean, you might be impressive in some ways, especially in your own eyes. But when it comes to the Kingdom of God, you can leave your credentials at the door.
God hasn't invited you because you're one of the impressive people. He had enough of those before.
The apostle Paul puts it this way later on in 1 Corinthians 1. He says,
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many of you were influential, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong... so that no-one may boast before him.
Feel a little boasting coming on? Squash it. Busting to tell someone about your great accomplishments? Bite your tongue. And ask them about theirs instead. The oscar award on your shelf from your days as a Hollywood Actor, or your sports trophies from your time on the Australian team, the impressive sounding title or the letters after your name? When you're tempted to bring them out for effect, just remember the one you say you follow walked the road to Jerusalem that was the road of humility. And he said everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
So instead of angling for the best seats, instead of taking the high places for yourself, instead of setting yourself up to be served and admired, see how you can serve in the kingdom in humble ways. Look for ways you can serve and care in ways where there's no present reward and nobody to notice. So you can look forward to the time when God says to you, "Friend, move up to a better place." Won't those be great words? Far better than being taken down a peg or two at the time when it's really going to count.
The Pharisees had no compassion. Anyone less than impressive was someone they just didn't want to be with. The Pharisees would only do anything that promised a good payback. With no thought for God's assessment at the resurrection. Is that how you're living?
You can measure it by your priorities, can't you?
These are the pious sounding guys who in the end are too busy with their real estate and their earth moving equipment and their marriage commitments to say yes to the kingdom of God. Can I urge you to think very carefully about this. Because of all our similarities with the Pharisees, I reckon for us today this is the big one.
We pay lip service to the kingdom. And yet week after week, instead of prioritising kingdom things, instead of prioritising God's things, instead of valuing God's word and God's people, instead of being part of God's church which is where we get encouraged to press on, for so many of us these days anything else is more important.
A friend of mine who pastors a church said he was talking to a family from his church a couple of weeks back who said his wife and daughter weren't coming to church through the netball season, because she was filling in on the team for a girl who couldn't make it on Sundays. As if it didn't occur to this dad that his family had a higher priority than netball on a Sunday morning as well.
And so it grieves me that something like a third of us here this morning weren't here last week and won't be here next week. It grieves me when Meryl says to me so many kids in Kidzbiz just don't want to come because they say they don't really know anyone in their classes. Which is of course because that girl is only here one week in three and this girl is only here one week in three and it's hardly ever the same week. I mean, how can you make kingdom friendships when it's like that?
What is it for you... that's pulling you and your kids away from the Kingdom of God? Because I see it happen time and time again.
Are you just too busy? Because that's what the pharisees said too. Are you just too tired? Is it your drive to succeed in your career that just pulls you away? Are you thinking it's more important for your kids to go to every sport game or every dance class or every birthday party on a Sunday morning than it is to follow Jesus.
Is it your husband? Or your wife? I can't come to the banquet; I've just got married. My wife kind of isn't into spiritual things like I was, so I'll just let her drag me away.
It's hard, isn't it, that situation? Which is why we keep urging our Youthchurch and Latechurch young people to choose wisely when they choose a life partner, and it's in a sense so sad when they choose a partner who you know is going to be pull them away from the Lord Jesus. I mean, what do you think is going to happen?
The Pharisees are proud. They're pretentious about their place in the Kingdom; they've got reserved tags on the best seats. Or they think they have.
And yet because of the way they want to honour themselves, because of the way they look down on anyone with needs, because of the way they've always got other things to do... Jesus says they're excluded from the great feast, they're not going to find honour at the resurrection, they're not even going to get a taste of the banquet.
This is the confronting Jesus at his strongest. He's challenging me. I hope he's getting through to you.