28. Your Table MINISTRY

Not surprisingly, this latest meal (see post 27) infuriates the Pharisees and teachers of the law to the point that they begin to organize a hostile opposition to Jesus. Likewise, Jesus escalates his attacks in Luke 12 and 13, publicly warning followers about the hypocrisy and murderous intent of the Jewish leadership. Jesus speaks with urgency of a coming day in which there will be a great feast in the kingdom of God, and exhorts people to humbly repent and be faithful.

Not long after this, Jesus attends a Sabbath meal at the home of a prominent Pharisee. For the Jews, the Sabbath was a feast day, so this is no ordinary meal. “Whereas Jesus was explicitly invited to the earlier meals, now, although an invitation may be implied, none is narrated, as Jesus merely “went into the house”” (Luke 14:1).[1] Can you imagine the scene? These leaders have been plotting to permanently incapacitate Jesus’ growing influence amongst the Jews, and here he is, on a Sabbath no less, showing up uninvited for dinner and playing, supposedly, right into their scheme.

Luke leaves out details of the meal and proceeds straight to the events of the after-meal symposium/discussion. Knowing that the Pharisees and lawyers are watching him carefully, Jesus looks up to find a man with dropsy[2] standing in front of him. It is hard to think otherwise that this is a setup, especially because this unclean man appears in front of Jesus in the center part of the dining room reserved for the activities of the symposium, rather than at his feet where bystanders were tolerated. By way of providing a controversy for the after-dinner symposium, the host may have deliberately encouraged the man with dropsy to go stand in front of Jesus in hopes Jesus would dare to heal on the Sabbath.

In ancient times, dropsy was thought to result from a habitual overindulgence in food and alcohol, in other words, of uncontrolled appetite.  Luke implies a connection here between the physical greed of the sick man and the moral greed of the diners, portraying Jesus as the medium for healing in both cases. First Jesus heals the man with dropsy while arguing that anyone would rescue even an imperiled ox or donkey on the Sabbath. And, if that’s the case, why should saving a man be any different?   Interestingly, after Jesus heals the man and sends him away, the other diners uncharacteristically refrain from comment. Either they are sullen or bewildered by Jesus’ authority or both.

Again, Jesus uses a meal to teach about salvation as he masterfully takes advantage of the others’ silence to introduce his own after-dinner controversy (which implies he usurps the host’s authority). He directly challenges the way these men jockeyed for positions of honor at the table at the start of the meal, confronting the moral greed which compels a person preoccupied with status to manipulate others for the sake of social standing. Moreover, Jesus challenges the host to rethink his typical invitation list, urging him to invite people on the margins of society instead of his elite, status-seeking, self-righteous peers. Jesus teaches them that the great banquet in the kingdom of God will include people in desperate need of healing, those who are poor, crippled, blind and lame (Luke 14:21). What his dining companions fail to understand is that they themselves are “the spiritually poor-with nothing to offer for [their] salvation; the spiritually crippled-made powerless by sin; the spiritually blind-unable to see the truth about Jesus; [and] the spiritually lame-unable to come to God on [their] own.”[3]

These are lessons taught and learned at the table that should make us consider what we believe, and how we lead our own lives as a result of that belief. In a sense, our meals and our behavior at meals reflect what we believe, especially about Christian community and hospitality, as well as our attitude toward people on the fringes of society. The truth is, when we invite others to our table, we usually do so with the mindset of entertaining them rather than sharing the food of the gospel and its power to transform lives. We are hesitant to embrace total strangers at our family table, finding ourselves far more comfortable including only people we know well, and who happen to be a lot like us.

Perhaps it’s time to view our table as an active place for ministry. Do you know people who seem unable to come to God, blinded to his truth, or determined to save themselves all by themselves? Invite them over for a meal and watch God work!

~ Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

[1] John Paul Heil, The Meal Scenes in Luke Acts: An Audience-Oriented Approach, p. 99.

[2] Today, we’d call this edema, or generalized swelling of tissues related to a host of causes, including heart and renal failure, liver disease related to abuse of alcohol, sodium retention, and abnormal blood pressure. For example, women with breast cancer who have lymph nodes removed often suffer from lymphedema, a significant swelling of the arm related to fluid obstruction in the lymphatic pathway.

[3] Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table, p. 79.

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