the agitator – Luke’s Jesus 6

Luke 14:1-6 +7-14 (see text below)

Jesus is present at a banquet in the home of a Pharisee on the Sabbath, and a man suffering from dropsy (body swelling due to excess fluid) wanders in to the banquet scene.
This story  addresses two conflicts with the Pharisees

(1)   They were among the rich elite, and so their meal practices were about promoting their public status.

(2)   It was a Sabbath day: devout practice of the Sabbath was a cultural boundary marker for who was truly Jewish, and therefore part of God’s people.

Jesus challenges the Pharisees on both counts.

First, he disputes their interpretation of the Sabbath regulations in the Torah. They taught that if someone’s life is not immediately threatened, working to help them should not be done on the Sabbath. Jesus counters this with an alternative: the Sabbath—of all days!—should be a day when God’s healing redemption appears. Thus Jesus heals the man.

Second, he challenges the meal etiquette of the Pharisees. Banquets in the ancient world (as today) “were used to advertise and reinforce social hierarchies” [Green, 545], and that is clearly the theme brought to the fore.

Mary’s song of the high brought low, and the rich made poor is ringing in our ears! Jesus is “challenging the social world of his table companions and inviting them to share in the redemption God has made available on the Sabbath” [Green, 544]

Jesus’ parable after the healing brings this theme to the fore: He is not simply giving sage wisdom on the virtues of humility, “he is toppling the familiar world of the ancient Mediterranean, overturning its socially constructed reality and replacing it with a scandalous alternative” [Green, 550]

(1) He is challenging in the first parable (vv. 7-11) the basic social stratification of their society: one’s honor and status was marked by power and authority, and “seating arrangements” were public ways of embodying status and honor. Jesus turns this whole order on its head.

(2) In the second parable (vv. 12-14) he is challenging the “ethics of reciprocity, the gift-obligation system” of Roman culture. Gifts were never “free”, but given w/ the expectation of being repaid and w/ strings attached. The privileged would never think to invite the poor to their banquets because (a) it could endanger their own social status and (b) it would be a wasted invitation, because the poor cannot reciprocate.

Again, it’s important to highlight that Jesus is not just talking about virtue. In his cultural setting he is challenging and subverting the status-quo practices of their entire society. He is offering an alternative reality, where the poor and marginalized have the same status as the rich and powerful: where all are invited to the same “wedding banquet.”

Jesus is portrayed here as someone who looks out at society and spies out the ways in which honor, power, and privilege are reinforced by cultural habits. And upon finding them, he completely turns them upside down.

What are the ways our culture reinforces social boundary lines that exclude some, and include others?

Luke 14:1-14  One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely.  2 There was a man there whose arms and legs were swollen.  3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in religious law, “Is it permitted in the law to heal people on the Sabbath day, or not?”  4 When they refused to answer, Jesus touched the sick man and healed him and sent him away.  5 Then he turned to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?”  6 Again they could not answer.  7 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice:  8 “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited?  9 The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!  10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests.  11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  12 Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward.  13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”


~ by tmackie on August 19, 2009.

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