An important concept . . . the parables of servant-hood are grouped together in the text.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But, when you are invited, go and sit down at 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 the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In a nutshell this is how we find the joy of the Kingdom of God in our life. It is the joy of serving someone else. Servant Messiah has servant followers. It is not what the people expected. They wanted to capture the Romans and make them their slaves and be served. Human values would be to have influence over others and have others work for you.
In Jesus’ day, house were insula style. An insula was equivalent to a city block and housed an extended family. There were open courtyards with small rooms around. The insulas were generally one story with dirt floors. The Last Supper was held in a large upstairs furnished guest room. Banquets described in the parables were in a guestroom called a kataluma, which means guest chamber. Your guests ate and slept in in the kataluma. In your house there were rooms where families ate and rooms where families slept, but there was one room where guests ate and slept. If there were an upstairs, as in this picture, it would be the largest room since the downstairs would have extra walls to support an upper floor that would be strong enough to hold people.
The furniture in a kataluma is called a triclinium. Triclinium means a three sided U shaped reclining table (tri means three and clinium means recline). A triclinium was discovered in a Roman campa at the base of Masada and one was also discovered at Caesarea Philippi. At Petra, Jordan there are rock cut tricliniums. Some of the best-preserved tricliniums are in Pompeii where they had outdoor tricliniums for use during the summer. There were places to store dishes underneath the triclinium. You reclined on your left elbow on mattresses and ate with your right hand.
This diagram is of a triclinium. It is labeled Mensa as that is a game where move around a board from upper to lower places at the table. On the left is “lectus imus,” the most important table. In the middle is “lectus medius,” the medium important table. Then on the right is “lectus summus,” the least important table. At each table there is also a high, medium, and low place. In Jesus’ day all Jews knew the level of importance their place had at a table. Everyone in Jesus’ hearing knew the places of honor and Jesus has observed that his disciples often argued about who got the more important place.
The important point here is that Servant Messiah has servant followers. When we serve each other we find the Kingdom of God. Jesus was trying to say in his life examples and in his parables that we will be surprised and overjoyed when we serve others. Have you noticed the differences in views as you go through life “along the triclinium table?” If you go through life on the important wing of the triclinium table, you could be condescending and looking down at other people. You could end up being selfish and judgmental. Have you found the joy of the least important wing of the table through serving others and valuing the work of other people? This is what Jesus was trying to illustrate in this Kingdom of God parable.
He said to the one who had invited him, ” When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Remember the rabbis say the highest gift is one that is not given for what one will get in return. A French scholar named Trakmay has written an excellent New Testament commentary suggesting that many of Jesus’ parables might have been at someone’s house who was curious about him and invited him to dinner. Jesus is saying the parables at a triclinium while there are servants serving him. What is clear is that many of the parables have masters, servants, and places of honor, but the French scholar suggests that these parables might actually have been given when Jesus was at a banquet.
Let’s look at the next parable in Luke 14:15-24:
One of the dinner guests on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ”Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and ring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'”
Notice the Future and end time reference in this parable. In Jesus’ day, a day or two in advance of a banquet the invitations were sent out. When everything was ready, the slaves were sent out to tell the people again. The streets and lanes separated all of the compounds (insulas). The sin here is indifference. The people couldn’t care less. It was similar to our RSVP process. They had said they would be at the banquet and then on the day of the banquet they couldn’t care less. The banquet was of no importance to them. In Revelation, “I would rather have you hot or cold rather than lukewarm.” If you are cold, at least you are against something and there is a contact point. There is an argument going on. When you couldn’t care less, when you are indifferent, there is no contact point for the Spirit of God. Therefore, indifference is an unpardonable sin, not because God said I am putting this on the top of the list of sins and it is unpardonable, but rather because there simply is no contact point. What makes one unworthy of the Lord’s Table in the Corinthian church? One is unworthy if the Lord’s Table is not taken seriously and being indifferent about it. There are some who believe they are unworthy to take communion and that, in fact, makes them worthy. In the Corinthian church some were enjoying a big banquet and overindulging and were indifferent to the meaning and importance of the love feast and communion.
And the last parable in Luke 14:25-33:
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all of your possessions.”
Rabbinic exaggeration was often used to make a point. The notion in this parable is if you are in it to “receive”, you miss life. The focus should not be on that you have or what you receive, but should be on what you give or how you serve. The kingdom values turn everything upside down.