We are studying Luke 14:7-14 for Sunday, March 3 – a text that presents a pair of Jesus’ short discourses about social propriety, which may have implications for our understanding of the reign of God. [Study notes on the text are here.] Here are a few questions we might want to consider as we explore this text:
Verse 7 begins with Jesus noticing the behavior of the guests at the meal he is attending. Do we make any assumptions about why the guests are behaving this way (“choosing the places of honor”)? What assumptions are those? Why do we think this?
What influences us when we choose a place to sit at a social gathering of some kind (e.g., a meal, a lecture, church)? What similarities do we see between ourselves and the guests in the story? What differences do we see? What insights does this comparison give us?
How is Jesus’ speech in verses 8-11 a parable, do we think? What makes it different from a typical parable? What is being compared to guests at a wedding banquet, do we think? How does our thinking here influence the way we understand this text? [e.g., if we think Jesus is comparing a wedding banquet to the reign of God, what would it mean for someone to “sit at the last place” there, or to be asked by the host – God? – to “move up higher”?]
In verses 12-14, Jesus seems to give his host advice or instructions about who to invite to a banquet. Are these literal instructions about who to eat with, do we think? If so – what would it mean to follow these instructions? How would we ourselves do that, and how would doing that make us feel?
Alternatively, could these be figurative instructions, about something else? If so – about what? What would it mean to follow these instructions, how would we do that, and how would doing that make us feel?
In other words: how do we think we need to understand what Jesus is telling his host at this meal, and what Jesus is telling us? What makes us think that? What in this advice is easier, what in it is more difficult, to follow? Why?
Maybe we could read Jesus’ advice in verses 8-11 as suggesting that someone who wants to be honored or exalted should purposely assume a low social position, and that someone who wants to be blessed should purposely show generosity to indigents or social outcasts. If we read this way, does it imply that the motives of the person who follows Jesus’ advice are self-serving? What would make us say that? What other motives could they be?
Overall, it seems to me that these two discourses are a lot deeper and rather less obvious than we might think at first. We may want to consider working our way down through several layers or levels of possible meaning: 1) social advice about inclusion; 2) parables about the reign of God; 3) insights into the character of God; 4) insights into what Jesus is doing or has done (here we might compare Philippians 2, which we studied several weeks ago); 5) insights into the ideal character of the church as the “exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world” … and then thinking about what all of that might imply for who Christians are and how Christians need to live.