PG Wodehouse, in one of his novels, defined a parable as a saying that has something tucked up its sleeve. As you work your way through Christ’s parables you find that the thing tucked up the sleeve is regeneration. It’s only if you have eyes to see, ears to hear, that you can understand the words declared.
1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. 2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. 3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? 4 And they held their peace. And he took [him], and healed him, and let him go; 5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? 6 And they could not answer him again to these things. 7 And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them, 8 When thou art bidden of any [man] to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; 9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. 10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. 11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. 12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor [thy] rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. 13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: 14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
Summary of the Text
This text breaks out cleanly into three sections. The initial section is the conflict over whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath day (vv1-6). This precipitates two separate parables (vv7-14). The first rebukes the human tendency to be proud power-grubbers, while displaying the blessing found in humility (vv7-11). The second is directed at Jesus’ host in particular, and instructs us that true generosity is imitative of the grace which God shows us (vv12-14).
Seating Charts and the Sabbath
The presenting conflict was that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath while feasting at a chief Pharisee’s house. Jesus sees the diseased man, asks the lawyers & Pharisees whether it would be lawful to heal on the Sabbath, to which they gave no reply, Jesus then heals him, and then makes a how much more argument. If watering your beasts is not a violation of the Sabbath, how much more is restoring a man’s health? Jesus brought rest/reprieve to a man in need of rest, and did so on the day of rest.
Initially, we might think that Jesus confrontation of their Sabbath hypocrisy is disconnected from the parable on what seat to take at a feast. But they go together more closely than we might first think.
Jesus tells us that instead of jostling for the best places and then be shamed when told to go down to a less estimable seat, they should take a lower spot and enjoy the glory of being bidden to come up to a more exalted seat. The Sabbath was a creational blessing. It was a day for man to rest in the fellowship and worship of God his Maker. Then, even in Moses’ Law, the Sabbath was a rest for God’s people.
God invited man in Eden and the Hebrews in Canaan (under the Mosaic covenant) to enjoy, enter into, and arise into the heavenly rest of God Himself. The writer of Hebrews makes this the pillar of his argument in Hebrews 4 to not come short of entering into God’s rest.
But to enter God’s rest requires the humility which comes by grace. As the Psalmist puts it, “We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly (Psa 106:6).” The Pharisees prided themselves on their adherence to the outward form of the covenant demands, but they had profaned the Sabbaths and were about to face the shame of being “demoted” and replaced by faithful Gentile saints. Instead, they ought to have received the covenant promises and duties with humble faith. But now, Israel must now take a lower place, in order to one day be provoked to jealousy by Gentile inclusion.
This is the argument which Paul makes in Romans 11:7-12, “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway. I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?”
In other words, the Pharisees were confident that in scrupulous adherence to the Law would come salvation. They ought to have recognized that Salvation, from first to last, is of God. They had been elected as God’s covenant people only through the kindness of God’s sovereign love set upon them (Deu. 7:7-8). Trusting in God’s sovereign grace which has elected us to salvation should not bring about covenant presumption and pride, but deep humility. This, of course, doesn’t mean that we leave off obeying His Word/Law; rather, we obey the law by first coming to the covenant blessings and curses with humble faith, gratitude, and joy.
Jesus summarizes this short parable for us. If you exalt yourself you’ll be flattened. Exaltation comes to those who humble themselves.
Caring for the Poor
JC Ryle observes on the second parable in our text that “We must be careful that we do not limit and qualify that lesson, until we have pared it down and refined it into nothing at all.” This is just the sort of passage that our selfish hearts can qualify & nuance to death until we have fully relieved ourselves of any duty to obey it.
Jesus command here isn’t that we should never show generous hospitality to our family or to those who are wealthy and well-off. It is that we should live in such a way as to pour out abundant and free grace, especially upon those who cannot repay it. We think that blessing is found in networking with the rich and powerful; Jesus teaches that true blessing is being like Him.
We should give freely to those in need, and give in such a way that they can’t ever hope to repay it. This is what godly parents do. This is what a good husband does for his wife. This is how we should disperse charity to the poor, maimed, lame, and blind. The Christian is one who makes feasts.
The sort of feasts we throw should reflect the free and sovereign grace we’ve received. Both in Jesus’ teaching here and in the OT Laws you should notice that care for the poor, widows, orphans, maimed, and strangers is personal. It isn’t faceless bureaucracies to whom this instruction to care for the poor comes; the command comes to individuals. Biblical charity is personal & familial.
Our salvation should be reflected in our life. If you have been saved by grace through faith, through no goodness of your own, but only by the great love and kindness of God, you should live like it. The proud and haughty jostle for the best spots, they throw feasts to gratify their own self-aggrandizing vanity.
True faith walks in humility and gives generously. You don’t grasp after the places of glory, elbowing others out of the way. You allow God, in His kindness, to promote you to glory. You don’t give just to get in return. You give to the poor in order to be like God has been to you. So, humbly walk before your God, by giving generously to those who can’t return the favor.