Proper 17 — Matt. 14:1, 7-14
During the past decade, the seminary where I teach has offered a course in interpersonal relationship skills. Part of the class focuses on proper behavior at social functions so ministers can avoid an embarrassing faux pas.
In verse 1, Luke set the scene at a dinner hosted by a prominent Pharisee. Robert Karris observed that in Luke, “Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal.” The entire dinner party was watching Jesus insidiously. At the same time, He was watching them intentionally. At the end of the meal, He taught three principles on the proper way to behave at a banquet.
1. Etiquette: Places of honor are best gained by humility.
The guests scrambled for seats closest to the host because greater honor was awarded those who could claim they reclined close to a wealthy or prominent
person. People schemed and maneuvered for such honor and in the process often acted dishonorably. Jesus taught that humility was a better way to gain honor.
When I was a seminary student in Dallas, I was invited to a party at the home of H.L. Hunt on White Rock Lake. Though I had been introduced to his daughter, I had not met the business magnate. As the guests filled the drawing room to hear a message by a British preacher, I sat on a couch conversing with a kind elderly man. When the program began, the speaker said, “Mr. Hunt, come up and say a word.” The friendly gentleman with whom I had been chatting stood up and spoke. I did not know what I felt more, honored that I had been talking with one of the richest men in America or humbled that I had been in his presence and did not know it. For one brief moment I had gained honor with humility and I felt wonderful.
Jesus taught that those who seek honor always should take the path of humility. The way of humility is the way to honor.
2. Ethics: Kindness is best spent on those who cannot repay you.
The opening parable was directed to the guests. The rest of the after-dinner speech was aimed at the host. Jesus cautioned the host against limiting his guest list to friends, relatives and rich neighbors. These could reciprocate his kindness. Instead, Jesus instructed the host to include guests who were poor, crippled, lame and blind. These guests never would be able to return the favor.
A popular bumper sticker reads: “Commit random acts of kindness.” Jesus taught more specifically. He said to do kind deeds for those who never could
repay your kindness. Jesus set a high ethical standard that transcends the attitude of “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.”
3. Eternality: Social relationships are indicative of spiritual relationships.
The essence of Jesus’ teaching never was restricted to good etiquette or ethics. He never intended to be simply a moralist. His aim was to teach the eternal spiritual truths of how to have a relationship with God. So, even when a reward for showing grace was not forthcoming in this life, Jesus taught that it would come in the next life at the resurrection of the righteous (v. 14). Grace and humility were not characteristic of people who sought honor like a lion on the prowl. This kind of behavior is characteristic of people who populate the kingdom of heaven.
At least one guest made the connection between what Jesus taught at this dinner with the feast in the kingdom of God (