Luke XLIX: Lk. 14:1-34
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you? What’s the most shameful thing you’ve ever thought or said or done? This passage is about the gift of shame.
Summary of the Text: Jesus dines with a ruler of the Pharisees on a Sabbath and heals a man with dropsy (an embarrassing looking disease), appealing to the same Sabbath laws recently cited (Lk. 14:1-6, cf. 13:15-16). At the same meal, Jesus tells a “parable” that is hardly a parable at all, directly confronting the jockeying for seats of honor at the table (Lk. 14:7-9). Jesus tells them to choose the lowest place in order to avoid shame and find true honor “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 14:11). Next, Jesus moves on to the host of the feast, apparently criticizing his guest list, urging him to 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” (Lk. 14:13-14). When a man attempts to cheer up the party with a blessing on everyone, Jesus presses home His point (Lk. 14:15-16). The story is about a host of a banquet who sent out many invitations, but when the time came for the feast, those invitations were refused with various excuses (Lk. 14:17-20). Hearing this, the master of the house became angry and sent his servant out to bring in “the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” and when there was still room after that, anyone the servant could find was compelled to come fill up the house (Lk. 14:21-23). Jesus concludes with a pointed warning: “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (Lk. 14:24). While Jesus goes on His way, great crowds accompany Him, and He says that if anyone comes to Him and does not hate his own family and his own life and bear his own cross, he cannot be His disciple (Lk. 14:25-27). Jesus gives two images to illustrate the kind of commitment He requires: counting the cost to build a tower and counting the cost to go to war – failure to count the cost results in shame (Lk. 14:28-32). The point is that those who do not renounce everything cannot be His disciples (Lk. 14:33). Finally, Jesus says that salt is good, but if it loses its flavor it’s good for nothing and is thrown away (Lk. 14:34).
The Salt and the Feast
NT Wright points out in a typically understated sort of way that often Jesus’ “conduct seems calculated to cause embarrassment.” He’s right. Jesus was assertive, and He didn’t mind embarrassing people at all. The thing to note is that the salt and the assertiveness and the Sabbath healing all go together. Jesus is saying that you cannot really help the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind unless your loyalty to Him is absolute. The loyalty of Jesus to God spurns Sabbath traditions and dinner manners (Lk. 14:1-11). In fact, this loyalty to God is actually Christ’s humility. Jesus is taking the lowest seat by pointing out the honor-grabbing of the guests. But then Jesus goes even lower by pointing out how the host is playing the same game by inviting people over who will repay him (Lk. 14:14). When someone tries to change the subject, Jesus comes back to the point, insisting that this kind of back-scratching system of jockeying for honor and affirmation is precisely how the poor and crippled and blind will end up at the feast of the Kingdom while the Jews will end up ashamed and uninvited (Lk. 14:21-24).
There is a way of carrying out mercy ministry and outreach that actually re-enforces systems of honor-grabbing and jockeying. In the ancient world, and some cultures today, honor and shame generally match up with rich and poor, but our modern culture is in the process democratizing pride. In our culture, honor revolves around feelings: I affirm you and you affirm me. Thus, we have been inundated with language policing regarding hate speech, political incorrectness, and now we are at the point where simple disagreements or differences of opinion are considered oppressive and hateful. And Christians have too often played right along with the game. God does not call it “gay,” God calls it sodomy. God does not call it immanent domain; God calls it theft, likewise, the sins of adultery, fornication, laziness, lust, greed, envy, selfishness, and wrath. But we are at the point where if you identify sins out loud in public, you will be considered unkind, rude, and probably hateful. And even in conservative Christian circles where these words are allowed in hushed tones or during a church service, there is still pressure not to be this kind of assertive with the sinners we are reaching out to. But Jesus says that we cannot follow Him if we do not hate our families and friends and our own life for His sake (Lk. 14:26-27). Salt is good, but if it has lost its taste, it is no use (Lk. 14:34-35). The salty flavor of Jesus is His willingness and the willingness of His disciples to offend and embarrass sinners.
We live in a world that has run entirely from shame, such that those who do shameful things in secret now boast of them with pride (e.g. Phil. 3:19). But shame is a wonderful gift from God in a fallen world (e.g. Gen. 3:7). It is closely associated with nakedness, and it comes from the feelings of helplessness, exposure, and embarrassment for sin. Jesus died on the cross in order to embarrass every sinful power (Col. 2:15). God has chosen the foolish in the world to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27). How? By saving shameful men and women. Why? So that no one may boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:29). Shame is the realization of absolute and complete helplessness. God gives us shame in order that we may truly understand His grace – so that our only boast is in the cross, where the only perfect man who ever lived was hung up naked to die in front of mocking crowds. Shame is also the realization of complete isolation and exposure, but Jesus scorned His shame so that all who put their trust in Him might not be left in their shame alone. He embraced the shame of the cross in order to stand next to you. He meets you there and takes your shame.
The Good News for Shameful Sinners
After healing a blind man, Jesus said: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” And when they asked Him if He thought they are blind, He said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, ‘we see’, your guilt remains” (Jn. 9:41). The gospel always begins with judgment: you are a shameful sinner. But Jesus came for the shameful, poor, blind, and oppressed (Lk. 4:18-19). And the point is that wherever people know they have nothing to offer God – God loves to save. Shame frees us to be saved and in turn love shamelessly, not expecting anything in return.