Luke 14:1–14 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions
Being Exalted, Being Humbled
Today's fourteen-verse passage highlights Jesus' healing and teaching while dining on the Sabbath with a prominent Pharisee. This is Part 1 of a two-part passage that includes two parables that Jesus told during this dinner. (Next week we'll cover Part 2, which features another dinner-related story: the "Parable of the Great Banquet" [vv. 14:15–24].)
Jesus was never a dull dinner guest. During his ministry he was invited to eat in many homes, some poor, some wealthy. He always had something worthwhile to say at every meal. We'll start our study focus by seeing how Jesus sets the agenda of the discussion at this meal. The entire text (Parts 1 and 2) is centered around a dinner table. A prominent Pharisee asked Jesus to eat at his home. A number of things took place at his table. It wasn't a time of friendly conversation and warm hospitality. Instead, it was a time of silent bad temper, treachery, and self-seeking on the part of Pharisees who were present; it was also a time of rebuke and sober warning from our Lord's lips; it wasn't a pleasant meal. The tension level between Jesus and those sitting at table with him was quite high.
Here's how we'll break down the meal in today's Part 1 study. It took place on the Sabbath. Things started off with a confrontation over the legality of healing a man on the Sabbath (vv. 1–6). The Pharisees silently and sullenly watched as Jesus healed a man of dropsy. When he asked them whether or not healing would be possible, they remained silent; they were even more so when Jesus unveiled the hypocrisy of their keeping the Sabbath. When the guests jockeyed for position at the table, Jesus also spoke to that evil (vv. 7–11). While they believed that "getting ahead" socially required self-assertion and seeking status, Jesus told them that the correct way to get ahead would be to accept a level of less honor and status by giving up both. One is exalted by humbling himself, Jesus said. The Master then went on to direct words specifically to the host (vv. 12–14) who'd apparently invited all the prominent people to his table on this occasion. Jesus told him that while men might seem to get more in return from inviting their friends, family, and prominent people to a meal, in heaven's currency, men were rewarded by God when they invited those who couldn't give anything in return, i.e., the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
Watching Jesus as He Healed a Man with Dropsy (14:1–2)
Jesus has been the dinner guest of tax collectors and friends; now he's the guest of an influential Pharisee "leader" who, with his friends, have invited Jesus so they could "carefully watch" how he observes the niceties of their interpretation of the Law. The Greek paratereo describes their intentions, 'Watch closely, observe carefully.' From the context, this can take on the meaning 'watch maliciously, lie in wait for.' Since this was the Sabbath, all the food would have been prepared ahead of time for this rather large dinner. Since making or tending fire wasn't allowed on the Sabbath itself, food was prepared on Friday, and then kept warm for one of the three Sabbath meals — Friday evening, Saturday morning, and a light meal following of Saturday afternoon prayer time.
One of the men there was afflicted with dropsy (or edema), which is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in body cavities and tissues, seen as puffiness in the face and swelling of the legs. Perhaps, the man was a wealthy Pharisee, who was overweight and suffering from fluid retention due to ill health. He doesn't have symptoms rendering him ceremonially unclean, but he's obviously in poor health. His Pharisee friends are glad he can join them this Sabbath. Incidentally, the man is directly in front of (Greek emprosthen) Jesus who can't help but observe his ill health and be concerned for him.
Healing on the Sabbath (vv.:3–4)
The Pharisees are watching Jesus closely to see how scrupulously he keeps the law. Will he wash his hands in the ritual fashion? Will he commit some other breach of their laws? Will he heal? Jesus observes the suffering man but he doesn't immediately move to heal him. Instead he asks permission of sorts: "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" They could have answered, trying to argue the position that a physician's caring acts are forbidden on the Sabbath. But no one answered him. Are they going to let Jesus hang himself? Perhaps they're aware of how he'd demolished the objections of the synagogue ruler when the bent-back woman had been healed in a synagogue a few Sabbaths before (See Week 47, 13:10–17). But none of them speaks. Now no one can accuse Jesus of wrongdoing by healing the man; Jesus' question ahead of time has seen to that. So he took hold of the man and healed him.
Doing Good on the Sabbath (vv. 5–6)
In the synagogue, when the bent-back woman was healed on the Sabbath, Jesus alluded to the practice of watering animals on the Sabbath (13:15). Here he refers to the exception on the Sabbath of rescuing one whose life was threatened: If a son or an animal had fallen into a pit, surely they wouldn't wait until sundown to pull it out! If they needed to, Jesus is suggesting, they'd find a way to justify pulling a son or animal out of a pit on the Sabbath. Again, the Pharisees are silent. What could they say? Sadly they didn't say the obvious: How wonderful that this gravely ill man has been healed! But they were silent.
Choosing Places that Honor You (vv. 7–9)
A marvelous healing happened at this dinner, which is a theme of the story. But something else is going on at another level. Guests apparently care only for themselves, not for the less fortunate, e.g., the man healed from dropsy. Their agenda at this dinner is primarily selfish. [It would be wise to read vv. 7–9 now.] . . . There was a usual pecking order among Pharisees. Jesus and his disciples may have arrived early enough to observe what was going on. There were no place cards to indicate where guests were assigned, so, as one entered, he'd look to sit at a most-honored spot at the table, because where one sat vis-à-vis the host was a reminder — a public advertisement — of one's status.
But the guests weren't free to sit where they desired: The host would seat and re-seat guests as needs arose. Jesus gives an example of the Pharisee host asking a presumptuous guest to give up his seat or place of honor to another guest. All that's left at this point is the least important seat at the table, which all of the other guests had avoided, which was a big-time embarrassment! The one who'd sought to advance his social standing ended up overreaching himself and being publicly humiliated.
Choosing Places that Don't Honor You (vv. 10–11)
Next, Jesus recommends to the group that each individual should take a more humble spot. Doing so, they might be very happily surprised when the host asks them personally to move closer to him. We see the moral of this story in v. 11. One minute, Jesus uses a very current example of worldly jockeying for position. In the next, he draws a spiritual application with his pointed comment: It's not merely a dinner host who might humble you, but God himself. Therefore don't puff up your status, but be humble before God; let him exalt you; never exalt yourself.
Why Host a Dinner Party? (vv. 12–14)
Jesus' pointed comments aren't over yet. He's talked about the dinner guests' social climbing motives. Now he turns to the host's motives. The room was full of guests — Pharisees who were the host's peers all looked up to him as a leader. As well, Jesus was the honored dinner guest. Though he was socially inferior to the Pharisees in this town, his fame had preceded him; so his presence brought prestige to the prominent Pharisee leader who wanted to be remembered in that town as the one who'd hosted the famous, if unorthodox, teacher from Galilee.
Sadly, this dinner wasn't intended to be one that helped one another; it was about helping oneself, advancing oneself, moving forward in the social matrix. These guests didn't seem to be especially concerned about the man with dropsy, only whether Jesus could be charged with breaking the Sabbath. The dinner wasn't one that enabled guests to meet and appreciate and learn from Jesus; it was one that helped enhance one's status. And so Jesus' closing parable is as jarring as it is apropos. Let's read vv. 12–14 now. . .
In effect, Jesus' wise words are these: When you hold a special meal, invite those who are least able to reciprocate. Do it out of love while inviting out of the goodness of your heart. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And don't look to gain status when hosting your meal. Rather bless all of your guests with your heartfelt generosity. Then God will reward you.
Both of today's short dinner-related parables (vv. 7–11 and 12–14) make the same essential point: Don't exalt yourself. Instead, let God exalt you.
- Q. 1 Why did the guests at this dinner party try to get to the best seats? What does that reveal about them (vv. 7–11)?
- Q. 2 What was the host's probable motive for inviting Jesus to his dinner? Who should we invite and why (vv. 12–14)?
New International Version (NIV)
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Jesus at a Pharisee's House
14 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" 4But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.
5Then he asked them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?" 6And they had nothing to say.
7When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8"When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this person your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
12Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."