Who invited him?

Week of Sunday September 1
Gospel: Luke 14:1,7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ 4But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ 6And they could not reply to this.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. 8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ 16Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” 19Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” 20Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’

It was the occasion of the month. Phillip the Pharisee had invited Jesus for lunch, and a whole lot of other guests. Getting any invite to Phillip's house was a feather in the cap, but going to see the Teacher was something special. He was the man of the moment; everyone was talking about him. Phillip certainly knew how to set up a good occasion for schmoozing and being seen!

This bloke Jesus had quite the reputation for doing outrageous things, like healing people in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and for tying the scribes in knots and making them look stupid,  so we were all watching to see what he would do this time. It promised to be quite entertaining.

We're all standing around having pre-dinner beers when Jesus grabs old Fred— you know the bloke who used to have the Besser Blocks for ankles— and he says to everyone, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?"

Well, it's not, of course, but he lays hands on Fred and says, "You're fixed, mate. Go home and tell your wife." Fred hops like he's got something running down the inside of his trouser leg, and I swear I can see his foot shrinking there on the spot— well, you've seen him— he's hardly the same bloke!

It all happened so fast no one knew what to say! But Jesus says, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?’ 

I saw Phillip open his mouth, and then close it again. Even he was a bit taken aback. I think we all felt a bit shown up by what Jesus had done. Finally Phillip says, "Alright, gentlemen. Let's go in and sit down."

Of course he has that blasted table layout again, and you have to work out where to sit— Bill Jones straightaway goes and sits above himself as usual— and the teacher has another go. For a moment I thought he was being serious— just conversational with a couple of blokes next to him.

"You know when you've been invited to dinner?" he says. "You have to schmooze properly, folks! Don't sit up at the top—" Bill's already sitting down and starting to look a bit uncomfortable— "because if you do that and there's someone more important, then the host'll have to move you down, which won't please him, and you'll look stupid, and you'll find that by then the only seats left are the ones at the bottom of the pecking order!"

"The way to do it—" he sounds dead serious, but we've all realised he's having a go at us— "is to sit down the bottom of the list, and then the host will move you up. Everyone likes that. You look important, and Phillip here— he gets to show what good manners he has, and how well he looks after his guests."

And then he goes and sits down right next to Zacchaeus, who was sitting at the bottom, where he belonged!

Well! Talk about getting more than we bargained for. No one else wants to sit down, and Phillip's just been handed a hot potato! I've got to hand it to him. He comes down and says, "Teacher, you are my guest of honour, come and sit with me." Mind you there's a hint of "And what was I thinking when I invited you," in his tone!

And then Jesus says, "No thanks mate. It's good just to be here. I haven't seen Zac here, for weeks; you leave Bill where he is. He looks like he needs a friend." Actually... Bill looked like he wanted to slide under the table.

"Sabbath Boys Club at Phil's," my wife used to call it. "where you make more contacts than at a Masonic Ball." She was right, and the beer was always good, and the food was better. Although...  I'd never seen it start out so subdued as that particular lunchtime!

But Jesus decided to behave himself, and things slowly picked up with some boutique beer Phillip had found somewhere.

When blokes began to drift off home, I thought I'd ask Jesus about some of what he said, but he'd gone up and started talking with Phil.

"Mate, when you have a lunch... don't invite your friends, or your brothers, or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they can't repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

The bloke couldn't help himself! Phil flinched, but then, to my surprise, he says "You're right. I can't stand half these blokes anyway! But being on the Council... you know; keeping up appearances." He sighs. "It's not really what life's about, is it? It's not what's really important."

"Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God," says Bill Jones. I tell you, that bloke is as fake as his nylon hair piece.

"Yeah." Jesus is tired now. "But imagine there is a great feast; God's putting on the last feast at the end of time," he says. "When God sends out the invites, some of you guys who get them will be so busy social climbing you won't realise you've just received the most important invitation of all! You'll knock them back."

He gives this straight look at Bill, and I realise he's been really gentle up 'til now. "You'll be so busy bignoting, you'll never realise keeping up appearances and making a good impression is not what life's about. Mate, you are already busy missing out!"

"You're right, Phillip. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. You've allowed yourself to be humbled today. You've listened. Well done."

Phil's loaded, of course. But he's stopped having Sabbath Dinners. He and Zacchaeus have a barbecue, week about, for whoever wants to come. None of the nobs come, and it's a lot better.

Andrew Prior



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