When I read this text the first time, it just seemed like Jesus was giving wise secular advice at a dinner party on how to gain status and recognition by the world’s terms. But upon further study and reflection on the text, one realizes that Jesus is doing something quite different. He is leading His audience into seeing the big contrast between the social conventions of the world and the social conventions of God’s Kingdom. In ancient middle-east the stipulations for being honored, accepted, and valued in society were governed by money and power (much like today). If you had significant wealth and power, you were able to throw big dinner parties. And if you were invited to these types of parties, it meant that you were also a person of similar standing in society. The expectation would have been that all invitees would eventually invite the host over for a similar dinner party in the near future. If you were not in a position to be able to reciprocate these types of invitations, then you were simply not invited. If you couldn’t bear the expectations associated with attending and reciprocating a party, you lost status, you lost honor, and therefore, you lost value in society. The rules and stipulations for the world’s social conventions exclude those who “do not have” from those who “have much.”
In verses 7-11 Jesus addresses those who have much; the wealthy, the powerful, and the religious elite. He points out how acceptance, value, and honour work in their own culture.
In verses 12-14 Jesus challenges their social conventions and He invites them to see how social conventions work in God’s Kingdom. Rather than being exclusive, shallow and only focused on self-gain, the social conventions in God’s Kingdom are inclusive, allowing for a manifestation of deep relationships, and genuine hospitality and generosity.
In verses 16-24 Jesus tells a story of what it would look like if one of these highly esteemed dinner guests were to take on his invitation and his challenge to throw a dinner party based on God’s social conventions. But to do this the host would need to completely sacrifice the norms of society! If one of them is willing to let go of their exclusive, shallow, self-seeking way of living, and embrace the inclusive, deep, Kingdom way of living, they will likely lose their seats of worldly honor (it is no coincidence that what follows verse 24 is about the cost of discipleship!). But they will experience “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” (v.15).
Lenten Reader 2018
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