The scene shifts: Jesus and the Pharisees are now sitting around a table eating the Sabbath meal to which they have been invited by their host. Jesus has just been treated with conspicuous rudeness on the road from the synagogue to the home where they are having dinner. And now, it seems, they are continuing their Sabbath rudeness with one another. Nobody is saying anything to anyone.
But Jesus observes that the actions of those at the table, both of guests and host, speak louder than words. The guests have been pushing and shoving for the place of honor at the table. The Sabbath meal, especially when it is at the home of one of the top leaders among the Pharisees, is a place where you can be recognized as an important person. The closer you are seated to the host, the more important you are. If you can snag a seat next to the host, you’ll be the talk of the town that week.
But the host is no better than his guests. Jesus notices that everyone one seated around that table is “important” in some way or another. That is probably why the competition to be noticed as most important, at least for that day, was so intense among them. The host has invited these particular guests because he has plans to use these “important” men. The guests assume that they are being honored by being invited to the Sabbath meal of this prominent Pharisee. In reality the host is cynically putting them under obligation. In their vanity over being invited and their zeal to be “most honorable,” they don’t notice the host’s hidden agenda. He’s a host who is not a host.
Jesus supplies all the table talk that day, supplies the words that fit their actions and makes a parable out of the occasion. He weaves their behavior into a scathing indictment of inhospitality: it is scandalously wrong to use a place of hospitality to promote oneself at the expense of others; it is insufferably wrong to use an occasion of hospitality to manipulate others. Hospitality is an exercise in humility: when we are guests we are in a position to receive. Hospitality is an exercise in generosity: when we are hosts we are in a position to give.
Jesus memorably scripts the collective actions of the guests and the host who have just desecrated this Sabbath meal and makes a parable of what has taken place. The Pharisees themselves, host and guests, are the parable, the Parable of Desecrated Sabbath Hospitality.
The practice of Sabbath hospitality that is all form and no content has just been used to destroy Sabbath hospitality. Will they hear the parable that they have become? It happens a lot: the practice of church that is all form and no content destroys a church; the practice of marriage that is all form and no content destroys a marriage; the practice of parenthood that is all form and no content destroys a family.
The Pharisees in the story betrayed the Sabbath by the way they tried to protect it. How do we betray Jesus, Scripture, church, worship by the ways we try to protect them?
Have you ever used ‘hospitality’ as a means for getting something instead of giving something? How? If you could rewind the video and have a ‘do-over,’ what would you do differently?