"One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they
were watching him carefully."
From the prior chapter in Luke, Christ had healed a woman with an infirmity on the Sabbath (Luke 3:14). Now, on this Sabbath, Christ was invited to dine at a leading Pharisees's house. The Pharisees were trying to catch Him in a contradiction so they could accuse Him of wrongdoing.
"And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy."
Dropsy is a medical condition in which fluids pool in certain parts of the body. Here is an example picture. This man was in close proximity to the Pharisees's house and would have been seen multiple times by them but they paid no attention.
"And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on
the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained
Jesus took notice of the man and knew that the Scribes and Pharisees were watching him and responded by asking them a question. The issue with the question was that they were presented with two problems. If they said, "Yes", then they would contradict themselves according to their own sabbatical mandates because of the work they did on those days. If they said, "No", then they would come off as inhumane to not heal the man. Jesus was pointing out the unnecessary hardships of holding fast to their traditions over God's Commandments (Mark 7:8-9, 13).
The Sabbath1 was a commandment of God (Exodus 20:8-11). There were also serious consequences for violating the Sabbath if work was done on that day (Exodus 31:12-17). It's easy to criticize the religious leaders looking back in Scripture. But, the Pharisees knew these verses well. There were many instances of God giving commandments and requiring steep punishments which were sometimes met (Numbers 25:3-9). Especially considering verses like Jeremiah 44:20-23, the Pharisees had the right understanding but their motive for following the commandments of God was wrong. They upheld the command without mixing compassion (Matthew 23:13, 27-28) for their people. The result was hypocrisy. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).
Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of
you, having a son or an ox that has
fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not
immediately pull him out?” And they could
not reply to these things."
Christ did break the Pharisees' interpretation of the Sabbath2. However, the Sabbath instituted by God was not the Sabbath the Pharisees created over time. There are two responses to this statement. The first is that Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5), meaning that He created it and intended it to be a place of rest in Him. The second is that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17), not abolish it. The Pharisees did not see it this way because of the hardness of their hearts (John 5:38-40).
After healing the man, Christ contends which of them would not do the same if it was their son or ox that had fallen into a well. He's asking them to have compassion beyond what they possess to carry that over to strangers. For if an ox would be rescued from its predicament, how much more should a human be cared for?
"Jesus3 performs the miracle right before their eyes, and their hearts do not soften one bit. No one's mind is changed. No one's heart is changed. To a hard heart, miracles are no more compelling than words." (Anyabwile)
B. Humility and Humanity
"Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them,"
Think for a moment what Christ saw here upon entering the house. People of affluence choose the seating arrangements that bring them the most honor. They had just witnessed Him healing a man with dropsy and without considering what had just happened, they were right back to their concern for glorifying themselves. So Christ attempts to correct their heart behavior.
"When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
This practical advice Jesus offered the guests extended beyond earthly relations with hosting invitations and seating arrangements. Christ was showing them how the Kingdom of God operates. Its chief concern here was to show humility for one's behavior. The Greek word for 'exalt' is 'hypsoō', pronounced, 'hoop-sah-oh', which means 'to lift up on high', or, 'to raise to honor'4. The more we exalt other people, the more God exalts us.
"He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just."
Christ responds directly to the host by saying that it's better to invite the marginalized than to invite those who can repay the host's efforts for something in return. The poor, crippled, lame, and blind cannot repay such offers and therefore the host will be blessed by God at the resurrection of the just.
We see here two fundamental concepts that make up the Kingdom of God: Humility and Humanity. Christ patterned the guests and their host to what the Kingdom of God is not like. He offered them a better way to demonstrate humility for one's self while also having compassion for the marginalized thereby bringing glory to God's Kingdom.
The 'resurrection of the just' merits attention as well. There are many passages in Scripture that shed light on this topic (Matt. 10:40-42; John 5:25-29; Acts 24:14-15).
When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
The phrase, 'reclined at table' is often overlooked by commentators. The word does not have a modern meaning in the sense of reclining in a chair. Reclining5, in this passage, means that Jesus and the company were lying down on their side with their legs away from the table. Here is an article that further explains the biblical version of reclining. Why is this significant? The reason is that it shows that Christ was in a relaxed position while speaking to the host and guests about having humility and humanity.
Interestingly, what the guest said in response to Christ's admonition and subsequent blessing to those who invite the marginalized to their feasts instead of people who can repay them, backfires. The man was attempting to offer greater insight by saying rather it is anyone who eats in the Kingdom of God that is blessed. In his pride, he was trying to one-up Christ here with a greater blessing. But the guest did not understand what he was saying. Christ presents a parable about what the Kingdom of God is really like to correct him.
But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many."
It's not a coincidence Christ is using a parable with a banquet setting considering that he is dining at a similar event with the host and his guests. In fact, there are many parallels between this great banquet and the feast Christ is currently attending. The differences, though, are evident as well. For one event is earthly, lacking in heavenly wisdom with little humility or humanity for others. Whereas, the parable reflects what the Kingdom of God is truly like from extending invitations to the marginalized to demonstrating the right temperments that were contrary to the world's views.
And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
3. Anyabwile T. M. (2018). Exalting Jesus in Luke. Holman Reference.