Dinner Etiquette

Please read Luke 14:15-24 in your Bible.


      This is yet another example of truth being stranger than fiction: there is a thing on the internet called a “random excuse generator.”  There are several of them, actually.  A Random Excuse Generator is something to use when you want to get out of a social event but you don’t really have a good reason.  Your brain freezes every once in a while and you get stuck. No fear, just tap the button on the website and a random excuse will be generated in seconds!

      Naturally, not all excuses are created equal, so you might want to read it first before saying it out loud.  Here are some obviously lousy excuses for backing out of a commitment:

      I have a friend who defines an excuse as “the skin of a truth stuffed with a lie.”  That is an apt description of how we deliberately mislead others, attempting to cover up rude behavior.  Today’s Scripture centers on some folks who were making excuses.  Jesus told this parable to illustrate this point:

Eternal life is found in faith, not excuses.

1. The point of the parable: only the faithful have a place at the feast.

      While seated at an actual banquet table, Jesus affirmed the necessity of true faith by telling a story of a greater banquet.  At that time, the Jews ate only two meals a day: one at 10 am and the other at sundown.  The setting for this meal was presumably sundown Friday night. (Ancient Greeks ate 3 meals a day, Romans 4!)  The concealed purpose of the event was to trap Jesus in a controversy about the Sabbath, so it’s safe to say there was a lot of tension in  the room.

      In that vein, in verse fifteen someone made a statement to attempt to relieve the tension created in verses 1-14.  Darrell L. Bock paraphrased it; “Despite our differences, won’t it be nice for all of us to experience the blessing of sitting in fellowship with God when he reasserts his rule fully?”  A “let’s get along” remark. He was expressing a commonly held hope among the Jews that the age of the Messiah would begin with a fantastic banquet.  Among other things, roast sea monster would be on the menu and that was a sign that there was no longer anything to fear.

      Jesus was having none of it.  His parable was a warning that not everyone at that table would be seated at the heavenly feast.  His parable is a rebuttal of the gross assumption made in the statement and elaborates on His teaching in verses twelve through fourteen.

2. The parts of the parable: making excuses is not the same as having faith.

      The excuses made by the invitees (the people “worthy” of an invitation) disqualified them from attending the feast. This was a GREAT BANQUET; while we’re not told the occasion, one measure of the size of the greatness of the banquet is that MANY GUESTS were INVITED.  It was customary in that culture to send guests an invitation in advance and a reminder on the day of a special event.  This is similar to the “Save The Date” invitations you may have received.

      The persons being contacted in verse seventeen knew in advance of the date.  It implies they had time to send their regrets in advance or prepare to come.  The invitation did not catch them by surprise.

      Failure to do either of these respectful things makes their EXCUSES more intolerable and justifies the anger of the MASTER. To simply refuse to come when called and told dinner was ready was rude, a gross breach of etiquette.  Regardless of how reasonable their excuses may sound and how politely they are worded, it was too close to dinner time to make excuses.

      These three excuses are only a representative sample of what appears to have been the entire guest list cancelling at the last minute: verse eighteen says THEY ALL ALIKE BEGAN TO MAKE EXCUSES.  If that seems unrealistic, remember a parable is a story; it does make sense but isn’t historic and doesn’t have to be completely realistic.  It just has to serve the point.

      The first excuse (18) sounds similar to a condition to allow one to be excluded from a draft, according to Deuteronomy 20:5-7.  The second excuse (19) indicates the man was wealthy; a YOKE OF OXEN was five animals.  This was a big purchase but a petty excuse.  The third excuse (20) has some legitimacy in OT Law: Deuteronomy 20:7; 24:5 did allow newlyweds to beg off some responsibilities. 

      The MASTER ordered that his house be filled, so a different set of invitations were made.  Rather than postpone and waste all that food, the MASTER decides to go ahead with the banquet.  Who is left to be invited? All the previously invited guests have taken themselves off the guest list.  The kind of people who would be available at the last minute would be precisely the kind of people Jesus suggested in verse thirteen: the POOR, CRIPPLED, BLIND, and LAME.  This list represents people at the bottom rung of that society’s social ladder.  Their social calendar was less likely to be already filled and they were not out buying land or oxen or having lavish wedding feasts of their own.

3. Applying the parable: Invite and serve.

      Our part is the same as that of the SERVANT in the parable: we are to invite many people to the feast.  The master’s intent was that the banquet hall be filled.  It should be our desire to have company in church and in heaven.

      The fact that two separate invitations were made implies the merciful nature of God; there will be second and third chances to have faith.  2 Peter 3:9 declares that God wants all people to be saved, so He gives us many chances to repent.

      We can assume a second responsibility for the SERVANT.  Once the banquet hall was filled, it was his job to serve dinner to the guests.  This is a picture of service to the needy.  While Jesus’ main point looked to the Great Banquet, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19), this detail is also a reminder to minister to society’s neediest members.

Eternal life is found in faith, not excuses.

      The people sitting around the table that night were Jews.  They were probably pious, law-abiding, respectable people.  If anyone believed they had special status before God, they did. 

      Jesus exposed their confidence as false.  Though their status as Jews did get them an invitation to the FEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD, they were making excuses that would result in their being excluded from the great celebration that will occur at the end of this age.

      Instead, the people they decided were outcasts, unclean, pagans – a real “basket of deplorables” – those humble folks had genuine faith.  They were included in the subsequent invitations and accepted their place at that GREAT BANQUET.


The NIV Application Commentary, Luke, Darrell L. Bock.

Message #30

Looking Out for Number Three

Please read Luke 14:1-14 in your favorite Bible.

Image by James Best, (C) 2020, ://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      A man came home from a hard day at work.  He was in a bad mood, grumbling about everything, including the food his wife set before him.

      When all was ready, he paused ask the blessing.  After the prayer, his little girl asked, “Daddy, does God hear us when we pray?”

      “Why, of course,” he replied. “He hears us every time we pray.”

      She paused a moment and asked, “Does he hear everything we say the rest of the time?”

      “Yes, dear, every word,” he replied, encouraged that he had inspired his daughter to become so curious about spiritual matters.

However, his pride was quickly turned to humility when she asked, “Then which does God believe?”

      Every parent has the privilege of being taught lessons by their children!  Lessons on humility may be the hardest to swallow but they are necessary for us to draw near to God.

Humility is the sure path to exaltation.

1. The occasion for the parable. (1-7)

      The Pharisees’ disagreement with Jesus about proper Sabbath observance revealed the pride of the Pharisees. (vs. 1-6)  The Pharisees and other pious Jews had interpreted healing as a kind of work which was forbidden on the Sabbath.  This particular dinner was a set-up designed to trap Jesus on that subject.  The text gives us clues:

 Verse one tells us Jesus was being CAREFULLY WATCHED.

 Verse two tells us the man had DROPSY, an illness of retaining body fluids, seen by many as a sign of God’s punishment of a sinful person.  The fact that man who would’ve normally been shunned by people like the Pharisees “just happened” to be in the home of A PROMINENT PHARISEE at just the right time is purposeful, not coincidental

      Jesus sprung the trap with a question in verse three and a defense of His action in v. 5, where He offered an argument of expediency, as He had done in 13:15.  In 13:10-17, Jesus had already healed a crippled woman on a previous Sabbath and had been confronted by the SYNAGOGUE RULER on that occasion.  This trap is no doubt based on that experience.

      The result: the text tells us twice they were speechless.  They had no grounds for proving Jesus wrong but weren’t going to agree with Him.  This is a sure sign of pride; a resistance to changing one’s mind in spite of the facts.

      Pride is also evident in the way they jostled for position at the table. In verse seven we are told THE GUESTS PICKED THE PLACES OF HONOR.  Their pride was the cause of their unbelief so Jesus struck at their pride with the parable.

2. The particulars of the parable. (8-10).

      The parable centered on a WEDDING FEAST.  This was a common situation.  In this culture, weddings were often celebrated for an entire week.  At such celebrations, the table was “U” shaped, with t guests of honor at the base of the “U.” 

      Honored guests felt so assured of getting a seat of honor they purposely showed up late.  Someone already seated was bumped from their place to make room for the latecomer.  The person displaced not only suffered inconvenience but also embarrassment.  In this culture, honor and shame were important, even life and death issues.

      The strategy of humility is to pick the LEAST IMPORTANT PLACE at the banquet table.  This wisdom is not original with Jesus; Proverbs 25:6-7 makes the same suggestion.  This strategy removes the possibility of embarrassment as you can’t be downgraded in seating and makes it possible for you to receive an honorary upgrade. This strategy is not the point; Jesus‘ point is about God honoring the virtue of humility.

      The reward for humility is a seat & prestige upgrade.  To us, all this business about seating arrangements may feel a bit silly or overdone.  Remember, this was a different culture, one that placed a high value on the concepts of shame and honor.  If it helps, think about how much better it feels to be honored rather than humiliated. And if you need to make it more personal, remember how it felt to walk into the school cafeteria as a new student or freshman and have to look for a seat.  It felt a little embarrassing and lonely, didn’t it?

      Remember, all parables are stories that are driven to be a teaching device.  The story itself is secondary to the point of the parable.

3. The point of the parable. (11)

      The point of the parable is made perfectly plain in verse eleven.  God will thwart egotistical people but will honor people who humble themselves.  The verbs in the original language are all in the passive voice which is another clue that this is something God does to us; that He will take care of it.  This is a principle as certain as sowing and reaping, as reliable as sunrise and sunset.

      Contrary to popular belief, self-inflated folk do not fly higher.  Jesus exposed the folly of the dinner guests trying to climb over one another over the issue of seating as a sure sign of the sins of pride and self-centeredness.

      God will apply this principle with perfect justice.  God works through all levels of human experience.  On a “macro” level, He directs the destinies of nations, appointing people to rule them.  On a “micro” level, He exerts influence over the smallest details of everyday life. AND he attends to the details of everything in between.

      Because God is in charge, you can expect the principle of verse eleven to be fully enforced.  God will see to it personally.

4. An application of the principle. (12-14)

      Jesus’ first example was of a guest at a banquet, now He applies the principle to His host.  This is where the point of the parable interfaces with the setting.  The host of this event – the PROMINENT PHARISEE in verse one – had no doubt organized the occasion with an ulterior motive, to publicly entrap Jesus.

      Taking that action indicates a lack of humility.  In his pride, the Pharisee devised what he thought was a “fool-proof” way of dealing with Jesus, to catch Him violating the Sabbath laws as He had already done once previously and humble Him with scathing theological rebuke.  Their pride makes their silence look all the more foolish.

      The principle of humility also covers our motives.  Humility involves being as unselfish as possible in one’s motives.  Using His own parable as an example, Jesus observed we tend to throw parties for the people we know, like, trust, and can reasonably expect to receive an invite to a party in return. That’s a selfish motive.  A truly humble person can demonstrate their humility by throwing a party for people they don’t know, maybe dislike or distrust, folks who unlikely to return the favor.

      Do good for the right reasons and trust God to reward your good deeds.  But humility doesn’t have to be entirely selfless: a heaven-approved motive is to trade earthly rewards for heavenly ones.  

      Those who follow through on Jesus’ guest list strategy may never get an earthly reward; they may never get repaid for their kindness.  The humble person who acts unselfishly may expect a heavenly reward: “YOU WILL BE REPAID AT THE RESURRECTION OF THE RIGHTEOUS.”

Humility is the sure path to exaltation.

      It was a twenty year class reunion that reunited two old high school friends after many years of being out of contact with each other.  Of course, they filled one another in what had been happening in their lives.  One of them had worked a series of odd jobs, had been rather lazy, and had no ambition to speak of.

      The other had become very successful and he attributed his success to the Bible.  He explained,

“One day I opened the Bible at random, and dropped my finger on a word and the word was oil. So, I invested in oil, and boy, did the oil wells gush. Then another day I dropped my finger on another word and it was gold. So, I invested in gold and those mines really produced. Now, I’m as rich as Rockefeller.”

      The lazy friend thought that sounded like easy money, so he rushed home, grabbed his mother’s Bible, flipped it open, and dropped his finger on a page. He opened his eyes to find his finger rested on the words, “Chapter Eleven.”

      You see, putting God’s word to work isn’t so easy.  It requires ambition to do the right thing and along with it, a humble heart willing to serve God and people.

      Here’s what the divine virtue of humility involves: Knowing, accepting, and enjoying the person God wants you to be, in the place He has assigned you, among the people He has placed you.  Pride is ignorance, rejection, or disregarding those three factors, assuming selfish and worldly affections instead.  Envy is a desire to be somebody else, somewhere else, with someone else.


The NIV Application Commentary, Luke, Darrell L. Bock