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Jesus associated freely with the rich and the poor, both sick and healthy, sighted and blind, saints and sinners. He lived the model we are to follow.
Jesus went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath. They watched Him closely. There was a certain man before him who had dropsy. Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go.
Then He answered them, "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?" They could not answer Him regarding these things.
So Jesus told a parable when He noted how they chose the best places: "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited and he who invited you come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that he who invited you may say, 'Friend, go up higher.' Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Then He also said to him who invited Him, "When you give a dinner, do not ask your friends, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."
Luke 14:1-14 NKJV, condensed
It looks like a trap to me. They were digging a hole for Jesus to fall into. He was invited to a Sabbath meal at the home of one of the religious elite, and suddenly found himself positioned right in front of a man with dropsy. How convenient is that! Dropsy is from the Greek words for "water" and "face". Excess fluid bloated the face, arms and legs and signaled a faulty heart, liver or kidneys. Anyone looking at this man couldn't miss the signs.
The Pharisees were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal him and thereby break the Sabbath laws. This time Jesus put the issue on the table for discussion. But there were no takers; no one would say yea or nay. So Jesus took hold of the distended man, cured his illness and let him go. The man probably left the premises which is what we would expect from someone newly healed and wanting to shout it to the world. No way was he going to stick around for a meal shrouded in contention.
Jesus continued, addressing the self-righteious sneers that were circling the room. A footnote needs to be inserted here which you may find comical. The Greek words for son and jackass look quite the same. The early scribes were not sure which one Jesus used in this passage. Some guessed it was son while others transcribed it as ass. So you may find either word in the translation of the Bible you use. But either choice will do just fine to make the point. If on the Sabbath day your son, your donkey or your ox falls into a hole, friends and neighbors will help you with the rescue and celebrate its accomplishment. Implying--How is that different from a healing?
We said at the beginning the Pharisees were watching Jesus closely. Now we discover Jesus had been observing them also. This is what he noticed. Everyone thought they deserved the best seat beside the host at the table. We understand a good seat, like first class vs. coach, or those coveted box seats at the theater or a sporting event. Jesus had noticed as the guests arrived, they all vied for a position beside the most important people in attendance. Most likely, they never gave the man with dropsy a passing glance.
So Jesus told them the next time they go to a wedding, they should seek out the lowest seat and not the best one. Because a fellow sitting in a place of honor could get bumped if someone more important than he should arrive. Then everyone in attendance would boo at him and he would feel humiliation as he tried to find an empty chair. But if on the other hand, that fellow had initially chosen a low seat, the host might take notice and offer him a much better position. Then those watching would cheer and applaud his advancement.
It's a funny illustration because it played to their love of attention and praise, to arrogance and superficial ideas of keeping up appearances. It showed what Jesus thought of their pretentious maneuvering on those top rungs of the social ladder. Their pride was a trap and they had fallen in. These meals in the homes of the town's prominent people were nothing more than a stage show.
The Pharisees swelled with pride like the man with dropsy swelled with fluid. The latter knew he was trapped in a sick body and needed to be rescued. The former did not figure that out and refused to accept it. One person left the meal a new man. The others continued the phony and presumptuous struggle to define themselves by the proper people with whom they associated.
Jesus showed them a better way. If you want to be great, change your guest list. Invite those who are unable to compete and can't even get near the ladder. If you want to be great, don't promote yourself. Instead support those who need some genuine attention. By doing so, you lose the false friendship of other self-seekers, but you gain the true appreciation of those who count for nothing in man's eyes but are everything in God's sight.
In other words, climb down that ladder, not up. Turn your back on all that ambitious clamoring. Head downward instead. Because when you humble yourself, God will cheer and heaven celebrate.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Who is the most memorable, interesting, or famous person you ever ate with?
Why is it we take such pride in telling others about the rich and famous people we have seen, but we take no such delight in mentioning the common, ordinary people we meet every day?
Jesus rebuked his host for inviting the wrong guests to his dinner. The poor, the lame, the blind--Do you know any of these people? Will you take Jesus at his word and welcome them to a meal? What do you think it would be like to invite those who never get invitations to social events?
Where do you see the evidence of pride in the lives of people today? Where do you notice pride in your own life? Is there such a thing as good pride? If so, what is the dividing line which separates good pride from destructive pride? Is social climbing a pit that people fall into? If yes, why do you call it a pit?
Try to imagine a world where everyone competed for "the lowest seats" and preferred to serve others rather than being served. How would life be different in that kind of environment? Contrast the mood of self-giving with the mood of selfishness?
Working on the Sabbath is generally not an issue in our society. Why was it so important to the religious leadership of Jesus' day? What are some issues today which concern various church leaders in a similar and adamant way? How are decisions made regarding what to hold on to and what to let go?
Jesus' words about inviting those who are commonly overlooked by society can also be applied to congregations. How does your house of worship rate when it comes to diversity? How do you welcome those who seem poor and in need of friendship?
Do you feel comfortable interacting with people from both ends of the income stick? What are some things we could do to increase our level of acceptance of both rich and poor? How do we get beyond outward appearance and see each person as a brother or sister in Christ?