Advice for the hosts

This coming Sunday is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  In yesterday’s post we explored the cultural norms associated with invitations, banquets and places of honor as regards the invited guests.  Today we will continue that line of thought and consider Jesus’ advice to hosts.

Just as Jesus’ fellow guests had occupied themselves in normal, honor-seeking pursuits upon arrival at the meal, so Jesus’ host had followed ordinary conventions in putting together his invitation list. Invitations served as “currency in the marketplace of prestige and power” [Green, 552] for those whose framework was the world as we know it. Seen through the framework of the Kingdom of God, a different currency is the “gold standard.”

Jesus expands the picture of humility by exhorting his audience to invite to their dinner table the needy and those who cannot repay such kindness. Hospitality should be open to all. This kind of reversal of expectations and status is thematic in Luke (e.g., 1:52; 6:20-26; 18:14). In fact, in the very next passage, our meal story continues with Jesus reemphasizing the notion of inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (14:21), this time in a parable representing the eschatological banquet of God, which will include just such marginalized ones, with the “invited guest list” being left out (14:24).

Jesus admonishes that, whether at the early meal/lunch (ariston) or the main evening meal (deipnon), hospitality should be shown not to the rich and famous nor to family members, but to those who cannot repay the favor. In ancient culture, the one who hosted a festive meal, as today, would be placed on the invitation list for future meals at the guests’ homes. Jesus argues that such “payback” hospitality has no merit. The best hospitality is given, not simply exchanged in a kind of unspoken social contract.

Tannehill writes about this section (Luke, 230):

A formal dinner was a way in which an elite family (the kind of family who could afford such a dinner) proclaimed and maintained its elite status. The guest list was important, for the invitation indicated that one was accepted as a member of the elite. Family members and important people of the community needed to be honored in this way, and they would be expected to reciprocate. Jesus’ instructions in verses 12-14 conflict with this social function of dinners. It might be a source of honor for someone to give charity to the poor, but it is quite another thing to invite them to a social function in place of family and people of wealth, and eat with them. By doing this, the host is dishonoring family and rich neighbors and in their place is honoring the poor; or, in the eyes of the elite, the host is dishonoring himself by identifying with the poor. Therefore, verse 11 may apply to what follows as well as to what precedes. Those who invite family and people of status are exalting themselves by proclaiming their place in this group. Those who invite the poor and crippled are humbling themselves.

If God reaches out to all, then those who seek to honor God should reach out also. So the poor, crippled, the lame, the blind should be invited. (This list looks much like the list of Luke 7:22, with a few differences; it is repeated in Luke 14:21.) The poor and the powerless should be welcome. It is in this manner that one more and more becomes servant and thus disciple.

The point is that in doing good we should serve freely, without regard for our own prospects, leaving the recompense to God. This is the way Jesus went about doing good, emptying himself for others without counting the cost. There is Semitic exaggeration in the statement that one should not invite friends, relatives, and neighbors. The kingdom is for everyone, and our hospitality is to embrace all, especially those who are overlooked by most people.


Image: A Place of Honor According to Jeshua from https://www.breadforbeggars.com

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