‘And it came about, when he went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on a sabbath to eat bread, that they were watching him.’
The description here is unusual for there were no rulers of the Pharisees. It may, however, merely signify that the man was both a ruler of the Jews, and also a Pharisee. Or it may suggest some privileged position among the Pharisees. The former is most probable. But Luke’s aim in speaking of the Pharisee as ‘a ruler of the Pharisees’ may be in order to suggest that that we are to see this house as like ‘the ruler’s house’ (Luke 12:36). And he is possibly to be seen as comparing with the householder of the parable in the chiasmus parallel (Luke 12:39) whose servants were expected to fulfil their duties (Luke 12:35-40).
(It is true that the parallel is not wholly exact, but the implications are all there. Exactness was not possible when the master of the house in the parallel was either God or the Lord).
As the servants were in the lord’s house in the parallel parable, so Jesus has come into this man’s house and is surrounded by those who would claim to be His fellow-servants. And here He eats bread with them. But the fellow-servants who surrounded Him were Scribes and Pharisees who were all watching Him. In this last regard it is possible that the sick man had been put there deliberately, but not necessarily so. The situation may simply have been that Jesus was under general surveillance, just as the servants were in the parable. Indeed the Scribes and Pharisees were under surveillance too, although they may not have considered the fact. But certainly as the Servant of the Lord Jesus knew that He was always under God’s surveillance in order to see that He would do what was right.
The meal would be the main meal of the day following the synagogue service, a meal to which it was quite normal to invite guests. On the Sabbath there would be three meals, all of course cooked on the previous day (there were even instructions in the traditions of the elders on how and how not to keep it warm lest any ‘cooking’ occur on the Sabbath), but the midday meal was the main one. On other days there would only be two meals and the main meal would be towards evening. Being in the house of a leading Pharisee there would be jars of water set apart there which provided ‘clean’ water for the washing rites which all would be expected to observe.
A Sabbath Meal At A Pharisee’s House; The Healing of A Man With Dropsy (14:1-6).
It is unusual in Luke for us to be given the full details of the setting, yet in this passage Jesus is invited into the home of a ‘Ruler of the Pharisees’. And there He eats bread with him and his companions, companions who are ‘watching’ Him (and whom in Luke 14:7 He will liken to people at a marriage feast). They would certainly all have claimed to be ‘servants of God’, and fellow-servants with the Ruler. They would also have acknowledged that in one way or another they were waiting for the Messiah.
But when we note that in the chiasmus of the Section (see introduction above) this incident parallels the householder who should have been in readiness for the thief to come (Luke 12:39) and the parable of the servants who were waiting for their ‘lord’, and who were expected to be in the house ready and waiting for their lord’s return from the wedding feast, and meanwhile were to be about their duties all becomes clear. As we have observed there are a number of connections between the pictures presented. Here are God’s servant waiting in the house, along with the householder, and under God’s scrutiny. Just as they have Jesus under their scrutiny.
Jesus was also there as God’s Servant. He too was to be about God’s business, and when He saw there a man suffering from dropsy, He knew what His responsibility was as a faithful and wise servant. It was to heal the man. But He also knew that He was surrounded by disapproving ‘servants’. Indeed what He would do would even be disapproved of by His host, the householder. Nevertheless, He knows that He must be faithful to the One Who has called Him to be His Servant. If not He Himself would be accused of faithless service and thus lose the blessing from His Father. The parallel with the dual parables is clear.
a When He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on a sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him (Luke 14:1).
b Behold, there was before Him a certain man who had the dropsy (Luke 14:2).
c Jesus answering spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14:3).
d But they held their peace (Luke 14:4 a).
c And He took him, and healed him, and let him go (Luke 14:4 b).
b He said to them, “Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a well, and will not straightway draw him up on a sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5).
a They could not answer again to these things (Luke 14:6).
Note that in ‘a’ they were watching Him to test Him out, and in the parallel they could not answer His statement. In ‘b’ there was a man who had fluid in the skin which made his skin fall, and in the parallel reference is made to animals which themselves fall into a well. In ‘c’ Jesus asks if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, and in the parallel He does so. Central in ‘d’ is the fact that they make no reply. They have nothing that they can say against His actions.
‘And behold, there was before him a certain man that had the dropsy.’
There before Him Jesus saw a plain case of a man with the dropsy. This was a horrible disease in which water under the skin made the skin sag and ‘drop’. It meant that his limbs and tissues were swollen with excess body fluids. It was a condition that was understandably associated with uncleanness and immorality. Man has always been disposed to blame other people’s problems on the people themselves, although never applying such a criterion to their own situation.
‘And behold.’ This may be intended to indicate that his presence was a surprise and purely circumstantial.
‘And Jesus answering spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not?”
Jesus ‘answers’ the lawyers and Pharisees. This may indicate His response to the man’s mute appeal, or it may signify that He recognised the unspoken question in the minds of the Pharisees who were watching Him. What follows may be seen as suggesting the latter, for, aware that He was being watched, Jesus turned to the Scribes and Pharisees who were present with a question. It was a very simple one, that nine times out of ten they would have dealt with very quickly. “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not?”
Now if He had been a doctor their answer would have been immediate and clear. ‘Only in the case of a life-threatening illness.’ But He was not just a doctor. And none other could heal like He did. How did you say to such a person, ‘You cannot ask God to heal on the Sabbath, for God is not allowed to heal on the Sabbath.’ But nor were they willing to give Him permission. So they were in a quandary.
‘But they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go.’
So they said nothing. They no doubt reclined there tight-lipped and observant, waiting to see what He would do. Perhaps He would think better of it. But Jesus was a faithful servant, and when they said nothing Jesus took the man, and healed him, and let him go. And who could criticise Him when they had refused to forbid it? It is reasonable to assume that the man was there because he had chosen to come, because he wanted to be healed. He had come in faith. And once again Jesus had revealed that He could make men right.
‘And he said to them, “Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a well, and will not straightway draw him up on a sabbath day?”
Then Jesus turned to those who were watching Him through narrowed eyes and asked them which of them, if a domestic animal had fallen into a pit on the Sabbath, would not lift it out. Strictly speaking they should only have done so if its life was being threatened, but in practise all knew what they would do. No decent person could leave an animal struggling in a pit. For like many today they were more caring for animals than for humans.
Note how the ‘falling’ of the animal into the pit parallels the disease of a man whose skin was ‘falling’ because of liquid under the skin.
Some leading MS (including p45, p75, B and W) have ‘son’ instead of ‘ass’. It certainly makes the argument more powerful, and is textually strong. It is probably correct and strengthens the statement. No one would conceivably leave their own son, presumably a child, in a well when he had fallen down it. Even at Qumran the helping of a son out of such a situation was permitted on the Sabbath. But it was not the same at Qumran for an ox.
‘And they could not answer again to these things.’
They had no answer to give. How do you accuse a man of blasphemy when He heals successfully in the name of God? So they had nothing to say. But they had plenty in their thoughts, and it was probably not very pleasant. For their silence did not mean that they were satisfied. Only that they were biding their time. How often this happens when men’s prejudices are being laid bare and they are not willing to admit it. Instead of admitting that they might be wrong they simmer and determine how they can justify themselves by getting their revenge.
Sometimes what Jesus did on the Sabbath aroused great anger (Luke 3:6). At other times, as here, less so. But it all had a cumulative effect. And the cumulative effect in the hearts and minds of those who failed to enter into His own position that it was right to do good on the Sabbath, was that He was seen as a person with little regard for the Sabbath. They might have accepted that occasionally He might possibly have had some justification, if only it had been occasionally, but the point was not that. The point was that He kept on doing good on the Sabbath, and showing compassion, in spite of what people thought. He did not seem to know where to stop or to have any regard for how they thought. And it was that aspect of things that took hold of their minds, and it was the only aspect that was passed on when they spoke of it to others. Jesus, they would say, may claim to be a prophet, but really He was a Sabbath-breaker. Their minds had become so tunnel-visioned that they completely overlooked the fact that every example of ‘work’ that they criticised was connected with, and was the result of, a remarkable miracle (Luke 4:38; Luke 6:6; Luke 13:14; Mark 1:21; John 5:9; John 9:14), and was an act of God’s mercy..
This then brought them to a place where they had to make a decision. Was He really to be seen as the Son of Man Who was Lord of the Sabbath and therefore as having the right to make binding decisions about it, something which the clear evidence of God’s working through Him pointed to (they never once denied that a miracle had been done. The whole point was that it had), or was He simply someone who stretched things beyond the limit, thereby revealing His casual attitude towards God? The majority of them decided on the latter, and therefore sought to condemn Him as One Who led astray of the people. So they closed their minds to all else. But at the heart of the matter lay a crucial question. Which mattered most to God? Did He prefer them to fulfil all His ritual requirements as interpreted by their own teachers to the utmost extent, regardless of human need, or did He prefer them to relax them when they might result in a failure to do positive good, and to reveal compassion, something which might be seen in God’s eyes as an even greater requirement, especially when what resulted was so obviously of God. They chose the former. Jesus chose the latter. (Many today have sadly overthrown both attitudes. They have made the Sabbath a day for doing whatever they want. They are therefore wrong on all counts and are despising God even more).
‘And he spoke a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose out the chief seats, saying to them,’
Jesus noted how the Scribes and Pharisees who had come for the meal at the leading Pharisee’s house carefully chose the chief seats so that their superiority would be recognised. The couches would be placed at small tables and set in a U shaped formation with the host at the bottom of the U, reclining on his left elbow at table with his feet spread outwards on the couch, which would usually hold three diners. The most honoured guest would be to his left, and the next most honoured to the right (compare Peter and John at the last supper - John 13:23-24). The least honoured would be on a couch furthest away from the host. This gives Jesus the opportunity to teach a lesson in humility. But behind it there is also a warning about their attitude towards God, and what their attitude should be in His service, and what in their hearts they should be seeking. Note His indirect approach. He knows that direct reference to their status seeking will only cause offence.
The Warning Against Being One Of Those Who Seeks Out The Chief Seats (14:7-11).
This passage is parallel in the chiasmus with those who are to seek, not food and clothing, but the Kingly Rule of God, and to have their minds set on Heaven (Luke 12:22-34). Those described here are the opposite of that. They are concerned to have the chief seats on earth, and to exalt themselves. They seek glory on earth (how like the disciples, and the Pharisees, and how opposite to what God wants them and us to be). And in their self-conceit they think that one day in eternity God will give them the same credit.
But Jesus’ point here is that those who are truly seeking the Kingly Rule of God with all their hearts, with no thought of status, will take the humble place, and will in the final Assessment be ‘moved up higher’, while those whose eyes are fixed on obtaining honour and status for themselves will in the end discover that they have lost both. They will be told to ‘go down lower’ and will have to descend to ‘the lowest place’. Thus it is not only teaching them a lesson in humility, it is pointing them towards life under the Kingly Rule of God.
a ‘He spoke a parable to those who were bidden, when He marked how they chose out the chief seats, saying to them’ (Luke 14:7).
b “When you are invited by any man to a marriage feast, do not sit down in the chief seat, lest it chance that a more honourable man than you be invited by him” (Luke 14:8).
c “And he who invited you and him shall come and say to you, ‘Give this man place,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place” (Luke 14:9).
b “But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who has invited you comes, he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” Then you will have glory in the presence of all who sit at meat with you” (Luke 14:10).
a “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
Note how in ‘a’ He marked out how men chose the chief seats, and in the parallel points out that such people will be humbled. In ‘b’ the man is advised not to take the highest place, and in the parallel he chooses the lowest place. In ‘c’ the central emphasis is on the shame of being removed from the highest place.
“When you are invited by any man to a marriage feast, do not sit down in the chief seat, lest it chance that a more honourable man than you be invited by him,”
Jesus instances a marriage feast. This is because a marriage feast would be more formal and the placing of guests tightly controlled. But it was also so that they might recognise in it a reference to the coming ‘Messianic feast’. The Rabbis regularly taught by telling stories which at first appeared to have a single simple meaning, but which on further examination actually contained hidden references. Thus they would always be looking for deeper meanings in stories.
Jesus’ warning was against being overly self-important. When they went to such a feast, and especially when they thought of the possibility of the great final feast with God, they should not think in terms of the chief seats. This would only make them arrogant. And the consequence might well be that they found that others who were considered to be more important came along, and it would be discovered that they had taken their seats. There is a great danger for us all that we consider ourselves more important than we are.
“And he who invited you and him shall come and say to you, ‘Give this man place,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.”
And the result would be that the host would say to them, ‘You are sitting in this man’s place’. Then with shame they would have to leave their choice place and move lower, but as all those lower seats would by now already be full, (distinguished guests regularly arrive the latest, and those who saw themselves as less distinguished would arrive early, as this man had), they would, filled with shame, have to take the lowest place. Their dishonour will be obvious to all.
“But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who has invited you comes, he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” Then you will have glory in the presence of all who sit at meat with you.”
What they should rather do is come early and take the lowest seat in the first place. Then the host will see them there, and recognising their deserved status will come and say, “Friend, go up higher.” Then all who are at the meal will recognise their promotion and they will be appreciated by all.
This is not intended to be a subtle strategy explaining how they could gain glory for themselves. A person who thought like that would deservedly find himself left in the lowest place. It is rather a warning against pride and arrogance and practical advice on how to avoid being humiliated. It is advice on the importance of allowing others to decide their status and give the recognition of what they deserved, rather than their deciding on it for themselves. John and James would have saved themselves similar humiliation if they had remembered this when they sought to oust Peter and the others (Mark 10:35-45). The other disciples meanwhile, equally desirous of the highest place, were angry about it. So Jesus had to rebuke all of them, and teach them the lesson that it is by humble service and having the heart of a true servant that such a place would be obtained. It is the one who serves, not seeking status, who will be given the highest place. Thus the one who will achieve it will be the one who least expects it. Indeed the highest place will be in the servant’s quarters where Jesus is.
“For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
As so often the story is capped by a maxim. The one who exalts himself will find that he is at some stage humbled. He will find that he thinks more highly of himself than others think of him, and the result will be that all will at some stage know it, and he will be brought crashing down. And if it does not happen in this world, then it will happen in the Judgment. But the one who humbles himself will find that he is unexpectedly exalted, and it will come as a complete surprise, and if he belongs to Christ he will receive his reward, partly because he does not expect one.
The efforts of the self-seeker will have been put into attaining for himself the highest degree of status, into glorifying himself, and will prove finally to have been wasted effort. He will have become a victim of ‘the pride of life’. And even though he never learns it in this life, he will certainly learn it in the world beyond the grave. For death is a great leveller. The efforts of the second will have been directed at glorifying God, without any regard for status. They will thus have genuine God-like quality and have been genuine. So will such people be seen as worthy of true honour, and nowhere more so than in the world beyond the grave.
‘And he said to him also who had invited him, “When you make a dinner or a supper, do not call friends, nor your brothers, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbours, in case they also invite you in return, and a recompense be made to you.” ’
The passage begins with Jesus suggesting to His host, the ruler who was a Pharisee (Luke 14:1), that when next time he makes a supper or dinner he should not invite those who will return his invitation and thus recompense him for what he has done. For there is no goodness in that. It is simply a part of the social round. It may earn him a reputation as being a good host, but it will earn no plaudits from God.
Jesus is not, of course, discouraging family gatherings. He is rather using them to get over His point that the poor and needy should not be overlooked, and that what we do for them counts even more than what we do in this way for our families. We must remember that He had Himself attended many such gatherings (Martha and Mary had not invited the poor and the maimed, the lame and the blind - Luke 10:38-42). Jesus would have encouraged all kinds of relationships if they were leading to the betterment of men and women. But He desired especially that they would not forget the poor.
The Great Supper Will Be Attended By Unexpected Guests Because Those First Invited Have Made Excuses In Order To Avoid Attending (14:12-24).
In the previous parable Jesus had hinted at the danger of not partaking in the future life because they were too proud. Now He makes clear that most of those present will not be there in the everlasting kingdom because they have refused the King’s invitation to partake in the Kingly Rule of God. The introduction and the parallel have a twofold message.
· Firstly the need to be concerned for the poor and needy. Here the injunction is to invite the poor and needy to his table. In the chiasmus the parallel is with the story of the rich fool who also ignored the poor and needy and grasped for riches and a good time (Luke 12:13-21).
Some have suggested that Jesus would not have spoken to his host in this vein. But they overlook the fact that Jesus was a recognised prophet. That was why He had been invited. And people, even Pharisees, expected a genuine prophet to speak strongly to them, and be straight with them. And besides Jesus was a Galilean, and they were much more open and straight than the southerners.
· But secondly there is also a second, deeper message, and that is that many of those first invited, the religious Jews, who thought complacently that their place in God’s kingdom was secure, will not enter under either the present or the future Kingly Rule of God, because they have refused His invitation, while many from among the outcasts and the Gentiles will.
There are similarities between this parable and that in Matthew 22:1-14. The two parables indicate the flexibility of Jesus’ mind and His ability to adapt His stories so as to get over different points. We can tend to forget that like us He had to sit and consider how He could reach His audience, and that He would learn from experience, commencing with a simple story and then later expanding it in order to make it more powerful. Many of us have done the same thing time and again until the stories become quite sophisticated (or at least we think so) although it is necessary to ensure that they do not become overloaded. But Jesus never made that mistake. The Rabbis on the other hand were not noted for the simplicity of their stories.
· He said to him also who had invited him, “When you make a dinner or a supper, do not call friends, nor your brothers, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbours, in case they also invite you in return, and a recompense be made to you” (Luke 14:12).
· “But when you make a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they have no means with which to recompense you, for you will be recompensed in the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).
· When one of those who sat at meat with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is he who will eat bread within the Kingly Rule of God” (Luke 14:15).
· But he said to him, “A certain man made a great supper, and he invited many, and he sent out his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready’ ” (Luke 14:16-17).
· “And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I find it necessary for me to go out and see it, I beg you, have me excused’ (Luke 14:18).
· “And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am on my way to prove them. I beg you, have me excused’ ” (Luke 14:19).
· “And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come’ ” (Luke 14:20).
· “And the servant came, and told his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and maimed and blind and lame’ ” (Luke 14:21).
· “And the servant said, ‘Lord, what you commanded is done, and yet there is room’ ” (Luke 14:22).
· “And the lord said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and constrain them to come in, that my house may be filled’ ” (Luke 14:23).
· “ ‘For I say to you, that none of those men who were invited shall taste of my supper’ ” (Luke 14:24).
Note how in ‘a’ he is told not to call those whom he knows, and in the parallel none of those invited will eat of his supper. In ‘b’ he is to call the needy, and in the parallel the needy are finally called. In ‘c’ one present says ‘Blessed is he who will eat bred within the Kingly Rule of God’, and in the parallel even after the Lord’s command there is still room because those who were invited had not responded. In ‘d’ he invites many friends to his supper, and in the parallel he invites the needy, and in a threefold centre in ‘e’ the point of the story is brought home, all those who were first invited made excuses.
‘But when you make a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they have no means with which to recompense you, for you will be recompensed in the resurrection of the righteous.”
What he should rather do is invite the poor and needy, who have no way of recompensing him, and then he will be blessed, and he will receive his recompense in the heavenly kingdom, a recompense far greater and more lasting than any recompense on earth. The promise of blessing on those who give to those who have nothing is a constant one in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 15:10-11; Proverbs 11:24; Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 28:27).
‘The resurrection of the righteous.’ The righteous are those who have walked rightly before God and are pleasing to Him. They are in the end ‘the righteous’ because they have been made righteous in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The resurrection of the righteous is a constant New Testament theme, and follows on from the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:23). Elsewhere we learn that it is a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous (Luke 10:12; Acts 24:15; John 5:29; Romans 2:5-6), but here Jesus is concentrating on the positive side of it. The Pharisees also firmly believed in the resurrection, which had been taught in Daniel 12:2-3. The thought here is not that by doing this they will inherit eternal life, but that those who do inherit eternal life, and have done this will be rewarded. Jesus may well have recognised in the heart of this Pharisee, partly revealed in his invitation to Jesus, that he would eventually be, if he was not already, one of the righteous.
‘And when one of those who sat at meat with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is he who will eat bread within the Kingly Rule of God.” ’
Someone present overheard what Jesus had said and piously and complacently declared, “Blessed is he who will eat bread within the Kingly Rule of God.” All present there hoped to do so and would have re-echoed his sentiment. All who heard it would nod agreement. They thought that even if no one else was there, they would be. But Jesus, Who was very much aware that not all of them would be there, issued a warning in the form of a parable.
The language that the man uses, which echoes the terms used by Jesus, suggests that the man had been listening to some of Jesus preaching, and was aligning himself at least with that aspect of it, while of course interpreting it in terms of Pharisaic thinking. He wanted the prophet to realise that there were at least some who sympathised with Him. To ‘eat bread’ was shorthand for enjoying a good meal.
‘But he said to him, “A certain man made a great supper, and he invited many, and he sent out his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ ” ’
So Jesus spoke to them in a warning parable. The parable was about a man who made a great supper and invited many of those whom he thought were suitable. It was normal in those days, on such an occasion, first to issue the invitations in a general way without necessarily naming the exact date, and then to send a message to inform the guests once the feast was set up and ready. They in general had no calendars and diaries by which to remind themselves of such invitations. The Midrash on Lamentations 4:2 says, ‘none of them would attend a banquet unless he was invited twice’. In view of the parallel two expeditions of the servant at the end in order to bring in the lowly we may possibly see this twofold invitation as referring to John followed by Jesus, or Jesus followed by the missions of the Apostles.
So the man followed tradition and sent his servant out to call the guests. He did what courtesy demanded. It was clearly quite an exclusive supper for only one messenger was needed.
The whole parable was probably based on an actual incident that had taken place in the past and was well known. A rich tax-collector, Bar Ma‘jan, had arranged a banquet for city councillors, but, when they would not come, despising him for what he was, he gave orders that the poor should come and eat of it so that the food should not be wasted. Jesus, always on the look out for a good illustration, has taken up this tale and expanded on it, and given it a deeper meaning.
What did the supper signify? The Messianic banquet was such a feature of belief in those days that we have little difficulty in seeing it as indicating the hope of salvation, and the need to come under the Kingly Rule of God where that salvation was worked out. Jesus would have associated this invitation with His proclaiming that ‘the Kingly Rule of God is at hand’ (Mark 1:15). For that was why He had come (Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Luke 9:2).
But who are these first invitees? Certainly they would include those present at the feast. The parable was told for them. But we must not limit it to them. The idea is not so much to identify a class of people as a type of people, those who would outwardly have professed that they would welcome the invitation, but in their hearts were not willing to do so. This went beyond the Scribes and the Pharisees. It represented all who gave the appearance of being ‘friends’ of God, but in fact were not so, as indicated by their refusal to respond to Jesus. But it certainly included many of the Scribes and Pharisees as well (compare Luke 11:52). As with all His parables Jesus left it open for men to apply as they would. Those who were guided by the Spirit would come through to the truth.
And finally we must ask, who is the servant? We need look no further than the prophecy Isaiah. Isaiah speaks constantly of the Servant of the Lord Who will come to restore Israel and Judah, and bring back His people to Him. In the short run, as indicated by the twofold invitation and the twofold outreach of Luke 14:21-23, Jesus may have had John the Baptiser and Himself in mind. In the longer run this would include Jesus, the Apostles and the early church. Jesus certainly saw Himself as the Servant (Luke 22:27; Luke 22:37; Mark 10:45). And Acts 13:47 expands the idea to the proclaimers of the Good News. But in the end it is ‘the Servant of the Lord’ Who is in mind. Those who had eyes to see would recognise Who was meant.
“And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I find it necessary for me to go out and see it, I beg you, have me excused.’ ”
The excuses are to some extent patterned on the excuses offered to Israel’s fighting men before they went to war, (excuses which were probably not intended to be taken up as an examination of them demonstrates. See our commentary on Deuteronomy 20:5-7). There it was a house, a vineyard and a wife that gave the excuse. Here it is a piece of land (which could be a vineyard), a yoke of oxen and a wife. In Deuteronomy they were probably excuses offered in order to enable the men to refuse them, which would then nerve them for the fight and remind them of what they were fighting for. But there is no hint of warfare in this passage, apart possibly from the fight of faith. But they still excuse themselves.
We can take the excuses as either artificial or genuine. If the former they were typical of the excuses people make when faced up with the truth of the Gospel, if the latter they are evidence of ‘the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things’ that make the word unfruitful (Mark 4:18-19). But either way they were a deep insult. Only the most urgent of catastrophes could excuse not responding to such a final invitation when it followed one already given and technically, if not actually, accepted.
One of those invited excused himself, making as his excuse the fact that the had bought a piece of land and needed to go out and examine it. But all would know that he could have done this at any time, and that the evening was not the best time for such a venture anyway. His need to see it suggests that his agent had bought it for him. He is deliberately depicted as wealthy. But the idea is either that he was just making an excuse, or that he was too taken up with his possessions to be willing to forsake them in order to go to the supper, that is, to enter into the Kingly Rule of God.
‘All with one consent.’ Apo mias probably signifies ‘unanimously’, although some have translated ‘all at once’, immediately’. But the point is clear. All took the same view.
“And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am on my way to prove them. I beg you have me excused.’ ”
The second of those invited excused himself, making as his excuse the fact that the had bought five yoke of oxen and needed to go and test them out. Again he was a wealthy man. A poorer man would be lucky to have one or two oxen. Again the oxen were bought on his behalf by his agent, and no doubt his final approval was needed. But again late in the day was not the best time to choose for the purpose. This too was clearly an excuse. He was too taken up with his occupation to have the time or the inclination to attend the supper. The warning here was of allowing our jobs and occupations to so possess us that they prevent us responding to God’s invitation into the Kingly Rule of God, because of what it might involve. There is no necessity that should prevent us responding to that.
“And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ ”
The third does not make excuses. He baldly rejects the invitation and states that as he is newly married he cannot be expected to leave his wife in order to attend the supper. His wife (or his begetting of an heir) means more to him than the one who has invited him, and in the final analysis, more than the Kingly Rule of God.
And yet it is an excuse for if need arose, such as a summons from the king, or a fire on his farm, he would certainly be ready to leave his wife for an evening, or even more than an evening. His refusal was a great insult. There was really no excuse for his not attending. It indicated his contempt for the invitation.
Note how the threefoldness of the excuses indicate that they cover all possible excuses, of which there would be many, for three indicates completeness (just as two will later indicate certainty of witness - Luke 14:21-23).
“And the servant came, and told his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the main streets and side roads of the city, and bring in here the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ ”
So the servant returns to his lord and informs him of what all the invitees have said, and the excuses that they have made. Then the master of the house was furious, and he commanded the servant to go throughout the city, and bring in ‘the poor and maimed and blind and lame’. He will hold his feast, which is already prepared, and he will make sure that he has guests. For these will be pleased to come to his supper.
‘The poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ These are the very ones for whom God’s salvation is promised and were the ones who had been flocking to Jesus (Luke 4:18; Luke 7:22; Isaiah 35:5-6). They are as described in Luke 14:13.
“And the servant said, ‘Lord, what you commanded is done, and yet there is room.’ ”
But the servant then informs him that he has fully obeyed his command, but although he has scoured the city he can find no more guests there, and yet not all the couches are filled. Note the emphasis on the obedience of the servant. His exertions are in total contrast with the ungrateful invitees who refused the final invitation.
This failure to fill up the couches at the feast was in indication of the multitudes that Jesus knew would yet enter under the Kingly Rule of God. They would soon not be a little flock, for after those who were first called there would be room for many more..
“And the lord said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and constrain them (strongly urge them) to come in, that my house may be filled.’ ”
Then the lord tells his servant to leave the city and go out into the countryside. There in the highways and under the hedges he will find hungry men and women, for there were many such in those days, and he must use his full powers of persuasion so as to bring them to the feast, to fill up the empty places. They will naturally be reticent. Who could believe such good luck? And Eastern courtesy would require a first refusal. But he is to persevere. (He is by himself. There is no thought of violent compulsion. Compare Acts 28:19; 2 Corinthians 12:11; Mark 6:45). The hedges are those that surround the properties of the rich men who have refused his invitation. These people are those ‘on the outside’, who would not have expected an invitation.
This second sending out, along with the first, witnesses in a twofold way (two is the indication of a satisfactory witness) to the readiness of God to receive all who will come, and it confirms the twofold rejection made of those who had by their actions refused the double invitation at the beginning. Now they were doubly rejected. There was to be no doubt that their exclusion was now final. The door had been closed on them (Luke 13:24-25), for the master is determined at all costs to fill his house with others. It should be noted that the two expeditions, as had the two invitations, mirror what has already happened with John the Baptiser and Jesus, and with the twelve and the seventy. The Servant has gone out a number of times already, as the Scribes and Pharisees would well know. They are an indicator of persistence.
“ ‘For I say to you, that none of those men who were invited shall taste of my supper.’ ”
And His parable ends on the sombre note that none of those first invited will taste of his supper. These words are addressed by Jesus to His hearers, as the plural ‘you’ makes clear. He is enforcing the application of the parable so that they will not overlook it, and letting them know that it is His Supper that is in mind, that is, the Kingly Rule of God, where they may feast with Him. The finality in mind here parallels Luke 13:24-25. The parable was spoken in the first place to the Scribes and Pharisees. It was a warning to them that if they refused His invitation to enter under the Kingly Rule of God present in Him, they would find that rather than being blessed in the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 14:15), they would be rejected from it once and for all.
There may be in mind here the custom of sending food from banquets to guests who had been unable to attend (compare Nehemiah 8:10-12), so that Jesus is stressing that this does not apply here because their reasons for not attending were invalid. Let them take note. Once the door is closed. There will no longer be hope.
But it also contained a wider message for a wider audience, a message for some of His disciples who were probably with Him, and for those who would hear it from their lips. For Jesus was a master strategist. (And He may well have told the parable a number of times in different ways in different contexts. A good story is always worth repeating). It informed them that while the Scribes and Pharisees would on the whole not enter under the Kingly Rule of God, many ordinary people, and even outcasts, would be delighted to do so. They would come in their lameness and their blindness and their relative poverty, humbly and gratefully, to receive His salvation and His blessing. Blessed are the poor who seek Him, for the Kingly Rule of God is theirs (Luke 6:20). Like the crooked woman they would come to be made straight.
But the distinction between those in the city (Jerusalem) and those outside would certainly suggest to Luke and his readers that the invitation was also intended to go out to the Gentiles. For Jerusalem symbolised the Jews in Gentile eyes, and outside it would indicate the Gentiles. It is quite probable also that Jesus had this in mind, for He had a number of times made clear His interest in the Gentiles (Luke 4:25-27; Luke 7:9; Luke 11:31-32), and He knew that the Servant was to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). But as always it was open to His hearers to apply it for themselves in their own thinking.
‘Now there went with him great crowds, and he turned, and said to them,’
Great crowds ‘went on together with Him’, as He went on His way to Jerusalem, and they included many would be disciples who were not aware of why He was going there. For in the crowds would be people with different hopes. Some loved to hear Jesus’ stories, others were convinced that He was a great prophet, still others wondered whether He was the Messiah biding His time, and still others were full of enthusiasm and were considering following Him fully.
But Jesus did not want men to follow as disciples unless they had counted the cost. They could believe on Him, and commit themselves to the Kingly Rule of God without doing so. But for them to become His disciples and follow Him involved an extra cost, and He wanted to ensure that if they did follow Him they had taken this into account. So He wanted to warn them what discipleship might involve.
The Call To Discipleship (14:25-35).
Luke closes this section off as he opened it by showing Jesus as challenging His disciples and His would be disciples to consider what was involved in what they were setting out to do. He wanted them to recognise fully what was involved. His challenge to put Him before their own families is a reminder of the division that His coming could cause within families (Luke 12:51-53; compare Luke 8:19-21). His call for them to bear their crosses was a reminder of His words to His disciples in Luke 9:23-27.
a There went with Him great crowds, and He turned, and said to them (Luke 14:25).
b “If any man comes to Me, and does not love less (‘hate’) his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).
c “Whoever does not bear his own cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).
d “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have that with which to complete it? Lest haply, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him” (Luke 14:28-29).
e “Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish” (Luke 14:30).
d “Or what king, as he goes to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a deputation, and asks for conditions of peace” (Luke 14:31-32).
c “So therefore whoever he be of you who does not renounce all that he has, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).
b “Salt therefore is good, but if even the salt has lost its savour, with what shall it be seasoned? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill. Men cast it out” (Luke 14:34-35 a).
a “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:35 b).
Note in this example the beautiful balance of the chiasmus. Let any part drop out and it loses its balance. In ‘a’ the crowds come to hear Him, and in the parallel Jesus calls on those who to hear who will hear properly. In ‘b’ love for Him is strongly contrasted with their attitude towards all others, and in the example of the salt ‘good salt’ is contrasted with all other salt. In ‘c’ bearing the cross is necessary for a disciple, and in the parallel a man’s renouncing all that he has is necessary for being a disciple. In ‘d’ the weighing up of a situation of a builder is described and in the parallel the weighing up of a situation of a king is described. Central to all in ‘e’ is the question of one who commences but cannot finish what he commences.
The chiasmus may well be the work of Jesus, reworked by Luke by taking the last part of the last sentence and contrasting it with the hearing crowd.
“If any man comes to me, and does not love less than me, his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
The first cost was with regard to family. As He had demonstrated earlier, now that He was fulfilling His ministry His own family, who had actually sought to interfere with that ministry, even though He loved them, counted as less to Him than His new spiritual family, which consisted of those who heard the word of God that He spoke, and did it (Luke 8:19-21; Mark 3:31-35).
In the same way those who ‘come to Him’ in order to follow Him must recognise that He must then mean more to them than their families. They must respond to His way of life and His words. They must love their families less than they love Him. This very claim reveals that Jesus saw Himself as more than simply a man, that He saw Himself as having the right to claim a man’s total submission.
The word used here is regularly translated in modern versions as ‘hate’ and that is what it does often mean. But we must beware. No word in one language translates exactly into another. Thus miseo does not always mean ‘hate. It can mean ‘love with a lesser love’. Consider the following examples:
· In Genesis 29:30-31 LXX we read of Jacob that ‘he loved Rachel more than Leah’, and it goes on to say ‘and when the Lord saw that Leah was ‘hated’, (that is ‘not loved like Rachel was’). Thus the comparison is between two levels of love.
· In Deuteronomy 21:15-17 a man has two wives, one of whom he loves more than the other. The point is not that he hates the second wife, but that he does not love her like he does the other.
· In 2. Samuel Luke 19:6 the charge is made that David loves those who loved him less than he loved Absalom. It could hardly be thought that he was seen as hating them. The charge is that he does not love them as he ought.
· In Proverbs 13:24 we are told that ‘he who spares the rod hates his son.’ Taken literally that would be nonsense. If he hated him he would not spare the rod. The point being made is that a loving father should punish the son whom he loves, because he loves him and wants him to grow up rightly. If he does not he is demonstrating that he has a lesser love.
· In Romans 9:13 we read, ‘Jacob I loved and Esau I hated’ because the latter would serve the former. Again the idea is not that the Lord hated Esau. Rather it is that His love for Jacob was the stronger because He had chosen him, while he had put Esau in second place. He had a lesser love for him, although it was still great enough to bless him (Genesis 27:39-40).
In the same way it is quite clear that ‘hate’ is not what is meant here. Even if there were no other argument to prove that it becomes clear from the fact that Jesus includes the man as ‘hating’ Himself. But if the word is taken literally no normal, rational man would ever really do such a thing, however much he may hate his own selfishness, and the sin that sometimes possesses him. He simply loves himself less. And this meaning is confirmed in that Jesus has already told His hearers to love their enemies and not only those who love them (Luke 6:27; Luke 6:32; Luke 6:35).
So the Old Testament LXX background indicates quite clearly that ‘hate’ is not always the correct translation for miseo. When it speaks of God loving Jacob and ‘hating’ Esau this simply means that He has set His love on Jacob and not on Esau, because Jacob is His chosen one, His beloved. Esau is not loved in the same way, and is ‘loved less’. In the same way for people to ‘love Jesus’ is to set their love on Him and choose to follow Him. By it they have made Him their chosen Master. To ‘hate’ their families indicates that they leave them, however reluctantly, in order to follow Jesus, and that they will not allow their lesser commitment to their families interfere with their greater commitment to Jesus. Given the choice they, however grievingly, turn their backs on their families (compare Luke 9:59-62). If they are faced with a choice between obedience to Jesus and obedience to their families, they will choose obedience to Jesus. For they ‘love’ Him, and their families they ‘love less’. And the point here is that this is what following Jesus calls for.
“Whoever does not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”
The second cost is with regard to manner of life. The idea here has already been dealt with in Luke 10:23-27. A man who would follow Jesus must be like a man who bears his cross on the way to execution. He leaves his past behind never to be enjoyed again. He follows Jesus wherever it may lead, even in the pathway of suffering and, if necessary, death. He renounces all his past life. He dies to himself. He is totally committed to Jesus no matter what lies ahead. All those present of mature age would have seen what happened to men who took up their crosses, and many were seen as having been patriots. They had chosen the way of the cross once they had become insurgents, whether they eventually ended up there or not. Jesus’ disciples must be willing to take it too.
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower (farm mansion), does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have that with which to complete it? Lest haply, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him,”
But Jesus does not want them to take the decision lightly, and therefore illustrates this in terms of a builder of a tower or ‘large farm house’ (a farmhouse on the grand scale - many of his hearers would be farmers). Does not such a builder work out the cost before laying the foundation? For there is little point in laying the foundation if he will not be able to finish building the house. This brings out the size of the enterprise. It is no light thing that he is taking on.
But if he lays the magnificent foundation and then is unable to do any more work because the money has run out everyone will jeer at him and mock him. Why had he been such a fool? Why had he tried to participate in such a grand scheme? So in order to avoid this he should prepare a budget beforehand in order to ensure that he has enough to finish the project. And then he may make his free choice as to whether to go ahead or not (compare the men in Luke 9:57-62).
“Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.”
For if he fails people will say scathingly, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” In the same way therefore those who are considering leaving all and following Jesus should consider whether they are really willing to follow Him all the way, lest when they fail and return to their towns they are jeered at for their failure. Here the builder has a free choice and could choose to build or not as he desired (as with the disciples in Luke 9:57-62). And so have all who hear His words.
“Or what king, as he goes to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a deputation, and asks for conditions of peace.”
Jesus then gives a second example. We note here that in chapters 13-14 He continually reveals His delight in twofold illustrations. Two examples of sudden death (Luke 13:1-5), two visits to seek fruit (Luke 13:6-9), two activities in healing the crooked woman (Luke 13:12-13), two examples of animals led away to water (Luke 13:15), two examples of the expansion of the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 13:18-21), two examples of doors to be entered (Luke 13:24-25), two examples of those who enter the Kingly Rule of God (13, 28, 29), two repetitions of the idea of ‘today and tomorrow and the third day’ (Luke 13:32-33), two repetitions of Jerusalem (Luke 13:34), two contrasting visits to Jerusalem (Luke 13:34-35), two examples of those falling in a well (Luke 14:5), two choices of places in which to sit and two examples of consequences (Luke 14:7-11), two choices of invitations to the Supper (Luke 14:12-14), two invitations to the banquet (Luke 14:16-17), two sendings out of the servant to bring in replacement guests (Luke 14:21-24), two examples of the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:26-27), and now two examples of counting the cost (Luke 14:28-32). These twofold examples emphasise choice, witness and certainty.
Here then we have the example of a king who is faced with a choice that he cannot avoid. Unlike the builder he did not choose the situation in which he found himself. And his choice is whether to resist or unconditionally surrender. He must weigh up his own forces, he must weigh up his enemy’s forces, and then he must make his decision whether to fight or sue for peace. The impression given is that he has little choice against overwhelming force, although it may be that Jesus expected them to have in mind the many Old Testament situations where God overcame such overwhelming odds. Either way the choice has to be made. In a sense this was the position that the Apostles had found themselves in when Jesus called them by approaching them and saying, ‘follow Me’ (Luke 5:27; Mark 1:17; John 1:43). They had not chosen the situation. They had been put on the spot. And they had then had to decide what response they would make.
Various suggestions have been made as to whom the enemy king represents. Are they to weigh up whether they are willing to stand up to Satan and the kings of the world knowing that is spite of their fewness (Luke 12:32; Luke 13:23) they have God on their side? Are they to recognise in the enemy king the total superiority of God, and thus surrender to Him? Are they recognise in the enemy king the total superiority of Jesus which gives them no real choice but to yield and follow Him in unconditional surrender as those whom He has ‘vanquished’ by love? As with all Jesus’ parables we must apply it to our situation. But the main point of the stories is that they face men up with a decision, and a consideration of the cost and the choice to be made.
“So therefore whoever he be of you who does not renounce all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.”
Looking back therefore at the two examples of what discipleship will cost in terms of loss of family and of all their past life, and in terms of the possible hardness of the way (Luke 14:26-27), each one must now choose whether he will renounce all and follow Jesus, or whether he will not, for if he will not he cannot be Jesus’ disciple.
The choice is given to us too. In some ways it is not as stark. Most of us are not called on to leave everything (although for some it may happen). Yet in other ways it is more difficult, for hourly, daily, weekly and monthly we have to renew our surrender and recommit our lives and all our time and all our possessions to Him, so that we might be good stewards, not counting anything that we have and are as our own. It is a daily ‘crucifixion’ that is required of us.
“Salt therefore is good, but if even the salt has lost its savour (literally ‘if it become foolish’), with what shall it be seasoned. It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill. Men cast it out.”
Jesus then finishes with a warning of the danger of becoming a disciple and then losing the very ‘virtue’ which makes us useful in His service, our totally dedicated hearts. He does it in terms of salt. Salt is good. It offers great benefits to man while it retains its saltness. It can be used to season food. It can preserve food. It is offered as a an essential part of sacrifices. There is evidence that in some forms (as salty earth) it can fertilise the ground (this is certainly known in modern Egypt). It can kill weeds, although care must be taken not to contaminate the ground. It can prevent dunghills from fermenting too quickly so that they can be preserved for later use. But in all cases only if it retains its saltness.
In order to understand this idea of losing is saltness we have to recognise what the Palestinian meant by ‘salt’. The word was used of what was gathered from the shores of the Dead Sea, or obtained by evaporation from it, the crystals of which included both what we call salt, and carnallite. It would then be stored as ‘salt’. In some cases the salt content might be dissolved away and this would leave the savourless carnallite which they would still have described unscientifically as ‘salt’. Thus when they came to their store of ‘salt’ they discovered that it had lost its savour and was useless. So they ‘threw it away’. And, says Jesus, professing Christians who have lost their savour may just as well be thrown away, as they will be at the Judgment.
‘Lost its savour.’ The word used here means literally that it had ‘become foolish. The parable is being half applied. It is foolish men, men who do not trust God, who lose their savour. In Mark 9:50 the salt is described as more literally having ‘lost its saltness’. It has been suggested that this is a matter of translation from the Aramaic tradition, and that both are in their own way correct. In Hebrew (and therefore probably in Aramaic) the root ‘tpl’ can mean ‘saltlessness’ (tapel - Job 1:6) and ‘folly’ (tiplah - Jeremiah 23:13; Job 1:22; Job 24:12). Thus Mark or his source can be seen as having translated in one way, Luke or his source as having translated in the other (Semitic languages had no vowels and thus either meaning to tpl is possible).
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus then finishes this passage, and the whole section, with the plea that men and women might hear His words. Let those who have ears to hear, hear. This could signify that they must ensure that they listen, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Or that only those to whom God gives ‘hearing’ will understand. Both are true, for the one complements the other. The question therefore that each of us must ask is, have we got hearing ears?
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 14". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany