In the simple, everyday act of sitting down with others at meals, Jesus aroused enormous hostility. There were rigid ritual rules in the world Jesus lived in that were inviolable. Jesus violated them. There were strong prohibitions against eating with unsavory people -outsiders such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and people who didn’t keep up the appearances of religious propriety (“sinners”). Jesus ate with them. As things developed, eating with “sinners” became one of the most characteristic and attention-getting facets of Jesus’ regular activity. The Pharisees in particular were fierce in their observance of these rules and fierce in their criticism of Jesus.
At a meal with some of these Pharisees Jesus tells a hospitality story that turns the tables on his critics. His story is a stinging rebuke of the inhospitality of those on the frontlines of enforcing the hospitality codes of their culture.
One time when Jesus went for a Sabbath meal with one of the top leaders of the Pharisees, all the guests had their eyes on him, watching ing his every move. Right before him there was a man hugely swollen len in his joints. So Jesus asked the religion scholars and Pharisees present, “Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath? Yes or no?”
They were silent. So he took the man, healed him, and sent him on his way. Then he said, “Is there anyone here who, if a child or animal fell down a well, wouldn’t rush to pull him out immediately, not asking whether or not it was the Sabbath?” They were stumped. There was nothing they could say to that.
He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, “When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, body, `You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.
“When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, `Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, if you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be – and experience – a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned – oh, how it will be returned! – at the resurrection of God’s people.” (Luke 14:1-14 The Message)
Has it ever struck you the high value God places on hospitality? How does Jesus reveal the ugliness of ‘inhospitality’ in what took place in this story?
Would you consider throwing a party and inviting those who don’t fit in or who could never repay the favor?