The Wedding Feast
Healing of a Man on the Sabbath – Luke 14:1-6
1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And 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?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.
Jesus taught in the synagogue and, in Jewish custom, was invited to the home of the leading Pharisee for dinner. Following the script, Jesus attended. But he was watched closely by this group of legalists, and as he approached the house, he found a man with dropsy, a disease causing fluid build-up in the body tissue. He was swollen, with failing organs, and in intense pain. Jesus went to him, turned to the Pharisees and asked a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” They remained silent. What can they say? If they say no, they prove to be unmerciful. But if they say yes, they violate their own law. They were trapped, and wholly dependent on whatever Jesus did next.
We are always in the same corner—dependent on Jesus’s next move. And here, something was rumbling beneath the surface. This was not only about physical illness that needed healing. It was also about spiritual sickness that required the Savior’s touch. The Pharisees saw the man with dropsy as a test. Jesus saw him as a need. The Pharisees wanted to see what Jesus would do so they could trap him. Jesus wanted to see what the Pharisees would do so he could teach them. The Pharisees saw a problem. Jesus saw an opportunity. Pride uses people. Humility serves them. And that is the spiritual sickness Jesus diagnosed at the doorstep. The Pharisees were sick but they didn’t see it. They felt fine, but the disease raging in their heart was more dangerous than dropsy. It wouldn’t only cut them off from human relationships on earth. Left unattended, it would cut them off from God in eternity.
The Parable of the Wedding Feast – Luke 14:7-11
7 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, 9 and 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. 10 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. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Notice the shift here. No one seems to be thinking of the man with dropsy, or of the miracle that just occurred. Instead, they’re worried about where they’ll sit at the dinner. They’re worried about what people think of them, who honors them, who respects them. And Jesus sees it all, recognizing it for the spiritual sickness it is. Pride is not a character flaw. It is an accusation about the goodness of God. It is saying to God, “Yes, your gifts are good, but I deserve more. I can’t wait around for your blessing to spring out of the low place. I want it now, so I’ll take the high place on my own.” But to do that is to cut the cord of blessing and begin living life on your own. And we know that never works out well.
That’s why we need the gospel to orient us at every moment, even at a dinner party. The gospel of Christ, when believed wholeheartedly, does not lift a man above others, it humbles him to the proper place among others. That’s hard to grasp. We are so like the Pharisees. We long to be exalted, and we deeply fear we never will be. So, when we have an opportunity, we squeeze our way into the front of the line, worried that if we don’t do it, no one ever will. We start conversations, not out of love for others but out of love for ourselves, hoping they’ll be able to help us climb to the top. We mill around the high places, wishing to be noticed, and, at the very least, to be included when it matters most. We all know pride comes before the fall. But that never stops us. We exalt ourselves and await greater exaltation.
As Jesus walked to the head of the table, everyone rushed to their seat. He saw the side-eyed glances, heard the huffed breath of frustration, felt the pressure rise in the room. He saw what they couldn’t. Their pride was running the show. Everyone was drunk on himself, angling for what they believed they deserved. They didn’t think again about the man with dropsy. They didn’t care that the Messiah was among them. They cared only for the honor they could attain, not for the honor they could bestow on another. And so, they were all on a path to disappointment that night. But even more, they were on the road to perdition.
Jesus saw the danger. Pride rages in the heart like a fire, burning down anyone standing in the way. It’s only goal is self-exaltation. But that is not the way we are to live. It never satisfies. When we are prideful, no matter how much others honor us, it will never be enough because in our mind we are worthy of so much more. It also never works. When we try to gain importance, we lose it. Someone of greater importance arrives and we hang our head as we take a lower seat. Even our most common events in life, such as a dinner party, are watched by the Lord, and he knows our heart. Who can love another or receive love from another when the only thought is who will win in the end? When what others think of you is all that matters, love is undercooked, and the dinner is sickening.
The kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. Up is down. Down is up. Humility exalts. Pride degrades. In our sin, we believe honor comes from what we do or who we become. So, when the opportunity arises, we throw ourselves at it. But honor can never be taken. It can only be received. What we think we’re doing in seeking honor will bring shame, and what we do in seeking the low place, away from the spotlight, will often return honor. Taking the low place gives room to be brought up. But taking the high place gives room only to go down.
As we walk into a room, there are two ways to think. One way is to think selfishly. It’s the “here I am” posture, where you’re just waiting for everyone to notice you. You think only of yourself, getting the highest seat at the table near the host, receiving dinner first, telling the funniest joke, receiving the warmest reception, noticing all the ways others are honored above you. The “here I am” posture is exhausting. It was the default posture of the Pharisees.
The other way is the “there you are” posture, where you’re looking for someone to bless. You think of others before yourself. You find the one who seems lost at the event and strike up a conversation. You sit at the low place because you want the high places for others. You are patient as the meal is served. You listen more than speak. You engage more than react. You honor all without expecting anything in return. The “there you are” posture is life-giving. It is the default posture of Jesus.
It’s hard to think of only yourself when you’ve set your mind to think of others. Though no one can see our heart as we walk in the room, over time, everyone will find it out. What we say, how we act, what we expect to receive will come out in how we treat everyone else. And if we think only of ourselves, everyone sees the ugliness inside, and we are shamed. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. The world sees this as upside down. But in the kingdom of God, it’s right side up.
True and False Humility
In Philippians 2:3-11, the apostle Paul shows us how this works, using the life of Jesus as exhibit A.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
There is a difference between a person who appears to be humble and a humble person. There is true and false humility. The person who appears to be humble is only a different strain of the posturing people at this party. He is the one who sits at the low spot and awaits the place of honor, playing the game of humility when the end goal is exaltation. This is what the wicked do. They use the things of God as currency in the economy of their ego. But a humble person does no such thing. A humble person will sit at the low spot not expecting a place of honor, but so that he can honor those with and above him. He takes his place below because he understands he is no better than another. He takes his place among his brothers, not lording himself over them. He counts others more significant than himself, looking not to his own interests but to the interests of others.
We can see the difference in Jesus Christ. If he was merely appearing to be humble, he wouldn’t have come as a baby. He would have come on his white horse. He wouldn’t have submitted himself to shame. He would have come as a warrior, slaying his enemies. He wouldn’t have been patient with his apostles. He would have been hard with them for not recognizing him for who he was. He wouldn’t have endured the cross. He would have crucified his enemies. He wouldn’t have become nothing. He would have demanded everything. But Jesus didn’t merely appear to be humble. He was humble. And because he was, he endured the cross to save all of us self-exalting hypocrites. He emptied himself to make us full. He took the form of a servant to wash our feet. He was born as a man to save mankind. He obeyed to the point of death to undo the disobedience we’ve walked in forever. And because of all that—because he humbled himself—God highly exalted him. And if we are ever to find humility, we must look for it in Jesus Christ’s example. His gospel tells us we already have all the honor we need. God approves of us. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
We already have all we need. When we believe the gospel, we become before the Lord merely servants of his cause. In the summer of 1966, Doug Nichols was working for Operation Mobilization, stationed in London. Each year, they hosted a large conference, and this year, he was working the clean-up crew. Tim Challies tells the rest of the story.
One night at around 12:30 AM he was sweeping the steps at the conference center when an older gentleman approached him and asked if this was where the conference was being held. Doug said that it was, but that just about everyone had already gone to bed. This man was dressed very simply and had just a small bag with him. He said that he was attending the conference. Doug replied he would try to find him a place to sleep and led him to a room where about 50 people were bunked down on the floor. The older gentleman had nothing to sleep on, so Doug laid down some padding and a blanket and offered a towel for a pillow. The man said that would be just fine and that he appreciated it very much.
Doug asked the man if he had been able to eat dinner. It turns out that he hadn’t eaten since he had been traveling all day. Doug took him to the dining room but it was locked. He soon jimmied the lock and found some cornflakes and milk and bread and jam. As the man ate, the two began to talk. The man said that he and his wife had been working in Switzerland for several years, where he had a small ministry that served hippies and travelers. He spoke about his work and spoke about some of the people he had seen turn to Christ. When he finished eating, both men turned in for the night.
Doug woke up the next morning only to find out that he was in big trouble. The conference leaders came to him and said, “Don’t you know who it was that you put on the floor last night? That’s Francis Schaeffer! He’s the speaker for this conference! We had a whole room set aside for him!”
Doug had no idea that he was sleeping on the floor next to a celebrity, that he had told a man to sleep on the floor who had a profoundly important ministry. He had no idea that this man had helped shape the Christian church of that day, and really, the church of our day. And Schaeffer never let on. In humility he had accepted his lot and been grateful for it.
Francis Schaeffer was one of the most well-known Christian leaders in the world. He already had the honor of speaking at the conference. But when he walked in that night, he did not look for the suite upstairs. He took what he was given because, to him, the mat on the floor was the proper place for a servant. And he was exalted in the end, both at the conference and in the story. This is a testament that the gospel doctrine Schaeffer preached was the gospel culture he lived. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
When You Give a Feast – Luke 14:12-14
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. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
By this point, everyone at the party is offended by Jesus. He turns his attention now to the host. The guests were greedy honor grabbers, but the host is no better. Each person was invited for a reason, and the reason wasn’t love for them. It was love for himself. He was seeking the very thing they were all seeking: honor. He would receive it as each person walked through the door and subtly fought for a position next to him. The host may have looked forward to the meal, but his real appetite was for honor.
So, Jesus tells him not to invite his friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors to his party. If he does, they might invite him in return. That doesn’t sound bad, does it? In many places, inviting the host to your place is considered a kind gesture. It shows that you’re grateful for the invitation and want to bless in return. But if your party is filled with the movers and shakers of your world, an invitation to another’s party can be simply a selfish move, attracting attention from the right people to further your agenda. This was, apparently, what the Pharisee was doing here. He was more concerned with flattery than honor.
We are almost unable to think long-term. We think primarily in short-term gains and losses, hoping short-term gains turn into long-term success. And so, when the host crafts his guest list, he does it with the hopes of being repaid very soon. Because of that, his guest list includes all those who can do something for him. But Jesus says to think about short-term repayments is to forget the long-term repayments of great value. The true repayment comes far out in the future, even in the resurrection.
The point of this parable is to get us thinking, as all of Jesus’s parables do. Of course, Jesus isn’t commanding us to never eat with our friends, family, or neighbors. Instead, he’s asking a very pointed question: when was the last time you did something for someone that can do nothing for you? Furthermore, when was the last time you did something for someone that can do nothing for you, especially when it will cost you something for which you can never be repaid?
If we serve God only in the public square, where the trumpet sounds our good deeds, calling all to praise us, beware. It’s possible we’ve received all the reward we will ever get. But if we serve God in the alleys and side-streets, sitting in the dirt with those who need a friend, we may not be seen by others, but we will be seen by God, and his rewards are more precious than gold.
Jesus brought to this party more than anyone could have expected—all of it offensive. From the healing at the doorstep on the Sabbath to the parables offending both the guests and the host, Jesus was the ultimate party pooper. But, from time to time, we need such party-pooping. There are dynamics at play in us and in others that we’re so used to we can’t even see them. And it is grace when they’re revealed for what they really are.
If Jesus threw the party who would he have invited? That’s how the story wraps up, with a parable we’ve already considered in previous weeks, the parable of the great banquet. A man throws a great banquet and invites many. But when the time comes, the many don’t arrive. They all have excuses. So he sends his servant out to invite the poor, crippled, and lame. And they come. Those who refused before can’t find a seat at the table if they change their mind. They missed their chance.
Here’s the point: if we don’t humble ourselves before the Lord, accepting what he has offered, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in when we had a chance to be inside as the party went long into the night. Our pride will rip our ticket in two only to find that what we long for is inside the banquet hall.
What kind of people does Jesus invite to his party? Everyone, but few will come. The ones who will are the ones who are happy just to be included. They are those who can give nothing because they have nothing. They are those who find the door shut in their face, who see others cross the road when they approach, who rarely have the privilege of meeting another person’s eyes with love. They are the forgotten, the outcast, the down-hearted. They have none of this world’s honor. They own all this world’s shame. Their life is a mess, and they have nothing left to give. So when Jesus comes, they run to the man who told them all they ever did. And they find the Christ.
What do you make of yourself? Do you hold yourself in high regard, expecting the high place of honor at the table? Or do you see yourself rightly, as merely a servant happy to be involved? Do you see yourself to be as poor, pitiful, needy as you truly are, or has your inflated ego ballooned to such a size that you cannot see around it? If the Son of Man were to walk past you in shabby clothes, would you even want to be near him? Or would you pass to the other side as the rich man comes strolling down the sidewalk?
At this party, Jesus is making an invitation to guest and host alike. Will you come to the party I’m throwing? It’s not the kind you’re attending now. The rules are different. A man with dropsy might be there too. But don’t worry, he won’t sit next to you. He’ll be at my right hand. Will you still come?
It may be that God leads you to a dinner party where everyone is so full of pride that your ego can’t find a seat. Then Jesus will walk in the room and show you what’s really going on, and you’ll gladly take a seat at the end of the table just for the privilege of dining with Christ. It is a grace that Jesus teaches us to be humble, and an even greater grace that he keeps us when we’re not.