Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Read Lu 14:12-14 – There is a great story about George Gershwin who gave a party one time solely to show off his music. Groucho Marx was there and someone asked, “Do you think Gershwin’s melodies will still be played 100 years from now?” Groucho replied, “Sure – if George is still around to play them.” That is exactly the point Jesus makes in our text. He teaches us that there are two ways to live – to serve self or to serve others. And his point is if we live to serve self, our efforts will last only as long as we do. But serving others has eternal reward. The message is that simple and I’d say, “Let’s go home.” But I know you’d be disappointed if we didn’t flesh it out a bit!
The setting here goes clear back to v. 1. Jesus has been invited to Sabbath lunch by a leading Pharisee. But it’s a setup. They’ve also invited a sick man hoping Jesus will heal him and they can accuse him of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus points out that they even take care of animals on the Sabbath and can hardly object to the healing of a human being leaving them speechless.
Next, Jesus gives a lesson in humility – a parable showing entrance to His kingdom is reserved for those who give up trying and turn to Him to receive salvation by grace. But He’s not done! He now uses the example of a dinner party to further expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, hoping to provoke repentance. Jesus’ intro in vv. 12-14 teaches the kingdom principle that advancement into the kingdom and within the kingdom comes by serving, not by self-promotion. Jesus tells what not to do (Prohibition), what to do (Prescription) and why (Promise).
I. The Prohibition (12) (Selfish Service)
12 “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.” So, a prohibition against having friends over for dinner? Not exactly. We must go a little deeper than that. Jesus is using this social occasion to typify a much broader problem. The key is in the last phrase -- lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. Jesus is not objecting to a meal among friends, but that calculating attitude and lifestyle which does for others only to get back in return. It doesn’t matter whether the event is a dinner party aimed at getting a reciprocal invitation, helping someone’s political campaign with an eye to personal political advancement, contributing to the hospital wing to get your name on the wall, or giving a loan at an exaggerated interest rate. This is the person who never does anything for anyone – without an angle. Personal gain is their only aim! They serve with an eye to reciprocation. This is the kind of behavior that Jesus is prohibiting. It was rife among the Pharisees.
They were happy to invite friends over who could advance their political or religious ambitions. They only wanted to be seen with the “best people.” They didn’t mind doing for others – as long as there was something in it for them. They represent people who are always looking for a return -- whether it is an invitation to dinner, a contribution to a cause, volunteer work or whatever.
It’s an attitude that easily invades the church. We’re believers, but we still contend with the old nature. We’re Pharisees at heart, an attitude does not die easily. British theologian N.T. Wright preached on this passage one time. Don’t invite friends and neighbors but invite the poor and disabled to dinner. Next week, he and his wife got 3 invitations to dinner from people who had been there, leaving them unsure which category of guest they fell into – poor or disabled. They were too polite to ask! The point is Jesus desires selfless service, not service aimed at advancement, even religious. Like the poem:
He dropped a penny in the plate
And meekly raised his eyes,
Glad the week’s rent was duly paid
For mansions in the skies.
That is someone who thinks he can even put God under obligation by service. That is the attitude that Jesus is condemning here. Our service must not be with the prospect of using others to further our own ends. Like the lady who complained, “All my husband and I do anymore is fight. It’s upset me so much I’ve lost 20 pounds.” Someone asked, “If it’s so bad it’s affecting your health, why don’t you just leave?” She replied, “Well, I’d like to lose another 15 pounds first.” She was willing to go on serving as wife as long as she was getting some benefit. Similarly we can serve on for personal gain!
Serving others for what you can get out of it is hypocritical. Acts 8 tells the story of a magician named Simon who lived in Samaria in the time of the apostles who amazed locals called Simon the Great. But then revival came to town under Philip and many believed, including Simon – or so it seemed. His true colors showed when Peter and John arrived and laid hands on the new believers at which point they received the HS. Let’s pick up on Acts 8:18, “18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! (In other words, Simon hoped to advance his magician’s career with this new approach. Peter goes on). 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” When we do for others only for what we can get out of it, we are no better than Simon. That’s the attitude Jesus is condemning – service aimed at personal gain.
II. The Prescription (13) (Selfless Service)
13 “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Once again, Jesus isn’t just giving advice for dinner parties – altho helping feed the poor, the lame and blind is a great place to start. But this is a parable aimed at our lifestyle in general, not just one aspect. Jesus is teaching that we are here to give to and live for others, not just ourselves. We are to serve in a selfless way, not in a selfish way. Jesus was calling out his host because he knew that everything he did was calculated for his own benefit. And in calling him out, Jesus is calling us out as well.
In a way, this is just another way of saying what Jesus says in Matt 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” In other words, you get these two right and you can forget the rest. They fall into place automatically. But loving your neighbor just like you love yourself is not easy.
We are born selfish. Surely we all recognize that. If the first words a child learns are Momma and Dada, then the third is “MINE!” And sometimes that one comes first! It’s only natural that we are more about me than we are about thee. But Jesus is challenging us, “Listen, if you want to follow me to the kingdom – “me” has to take a backseat!” The world thinks, “What can that person do for me?” Believers are learning to think, “What can I do for that person?” In Luke 6:35, Jesus even applies this to enemies: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” Perhaps we expect nothing in return from our children – altho even there we’re usually looking for reciprocation – but when was the last time we really did something for someone else with no expectation of any kind of return?
A man and his wife were visiting with the doctor about the wife’s upcoming surgery. They doctor went thru his whole speech then asked if they had any questions. The husband said, “Yes, I have one. How long will it be before she can resume housework?” See yourself there? I know you see others there – but do you see you there?! If we could take the top off our heart and look inside we’d be appalled at the amount of selfishness we would find there, invading every corner of our existence. Don’t you think we would be hard-pressed to find even a little bit of true selflessness there. And what we found would likely be accompanied by a grudging attitude negating any good that might have been accomplished. We’re Pharisees at heart.
That’s why it seems so strange when we see someone actually practicing a selfless lifestyle. For those of you who think nothing good can come out of LA, let me tell you about Clayton Kershaw who has developed into one of the best pitchers in baseball at a very young age. He is passionate about his craft and works hard to achieve the success he has enjoyed. Clayton and his wife Ellen are also devout believers committed to living out their faith. Ellen has always had a passion for underprivileged children in Africa -- having made her first trip there, on her own, at the age of 19. After their marriage, Clayton has come to share his wife’s love for Africa and as the Lord has provided resources, they have given heavily to relief efforts there.
Well, a couple of years ago a teammate expressed shock when he found that Clayton and Ellen were going to spend the first two weeks of the new year on a missionary trip to Africa. He said, “I knew of Ellen’s passion for missions and the impact it had on her life and spiritual growth, but I couldn’t help but think, Come on, really, Kersh? Off-season is the peak training season for baseball players, and there would be no place for him to throw or work out in the middle of Africa.” He expressed his concern to Kershaw who put things into perspective with this comment: “We should want to be known as Christians who happen to play baseball, not as ballplayers who happen to be Xn.” There is a couple who are not just passionate, but passionate for the right things in the right order. They are inviting the poor, the lame and the blind to their table instead of merely thinking how they can further their own agenda. Selfless service, sharing Christ with our world, instead of looking to the world to do for us! We must be the ones befriending the outcasts, caring for those who are different, loving the shy, the misfits, the unlovely – those from whom we get nothing in return. It doesn’t take a fortune. I’ve seen many of you do this – but we can always do better, right?
III. The Promise (14) (Supernatural Satisfaction)
14 “and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Here’s a great promise. Those we reach out to may not be able to reciprocate, BUT the Father in heaven can – and He will when our service has been truly selfless and without expectation. You can never really lose when you are doing for God’s sake and others.
Poor and handicapped people were not invited to public banquets in Jesus’ time. They could not reciprocate. But look at that little phrase tucked away in Jesus’ instruction in v. 14. He tells us to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” The world will not invite them; they can’t repay. Jesus says, invite them and you will be blessed for the very REASON that they cannot repay. It’s another kingdom principle, and as usual, it goes completely counter to human wisdom. You will be blessed by helping those who cannot repay. How? The last phrase – “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” This is a promise of a reward of eternal value for selfless service as opposed to any temporal reward we might get for selfish service. Which do we value most highly? Will we spend our one and only precious life selfishly looking for who and what can give us the best deal, the most return NOW? Or will we look for opportunities to serve those who can clearly return nothing? Investing in eternity!
James 1:27 instructs: “27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The “unstained from the world” part refers to selfish motives that identify any action as worldly. Helping widows and orphans and others who are helpless wards off that selfishness. I’m so grateful for those in our church who do this. We need more! It is the way we practice Matt 6:20, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Do you have any treasure laid up there? Or are you just living for now?
Thomas Costain in The Three Edwards, tells the story of Reinhold III, a 14th century Prussian ruler known for his indulgent lifestyle. He was very obese and was nicknamed “Crassus” – Latin for “Fat.” His younger brother Edward overthrew his kingdom. But he did not kill Reinhold. Instead he built a room around him in the new Kirk Castle. The room had windows and a door and Reinhold was given freedom to leave any time he wanted. But there was one catch. He was too big to get out and would have to lose some weight if he wanted his freedom. However, every day at his doorstep, his brother set all kinds of sumptuous food and delicious delicacies. He could not help himself. Driven by the desire for immediate gratification, he turned his room into a prison from which he never escaped. Jesus would comment as in Luke 12: 21 “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Most reward in the Christian life comes later. But most of us live basically selfish lives which cannot delay gratification beyond this life. Thus, we imprison ourselves in a vacuous existence that will lead to great regret as the end of our physical life draws near and we realize we’ve wasted it. Jesus’ promises are sure. And He says blessing comes from seeking the good of others rather than self.
Conc – Now, we could no more do this perfectly ourselves than we can fly. That’s why Jesus died. By His death, He invites every sinner who cannot repay Him in any way to participate in His death so we might have His eternal life. We’re all invited to the banquet – but it costs your life. Luke 9:23: “If any man come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” Note the infinite difference that makes.
Napoleon Bonaparte invited the rich to his parties – lived out a selfish agenda that allowed him to rule much of his European world for 10 years. But it didn’t end well. When the British defeated him, they exiled him to St. Helena where he lived out his last six years. His wife Marie Louise never wrote him and married another man while he was still living. He never heard from his son again. A British soldier accompanied his every move. His tombstone reads, “Here lies.” That’s it. The end of a life lived for selfish indulgence. It’s all over when this life is over.
Contrast that with George Mueller, who invited 10,024 orphans to his party and cared for them so well that he was accused of raising the poor above their natural station in life. He did this thru 5 orphanages without ever soliciting a dime, often praying dinner onto the table just in time – but never late. He also established 117 schools which offered a Christian education to 120,000 children. He did all of this without expectation of reciprocation tho he was a poor man himself. When asked the secret to his success Mueller replied, “There was a day when I died, utterly died to George Muller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will—died to the world, its approval or censure—died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends—and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”
So, have you died to self with Christ and been raised to new life in Him? You’re invited. Who would you rather be? Napoleon or Mueller? I tell you what. A hundred years from today, we’ll all wish we had come, and we’ll wish we had invited more poor, crippled, lame and blind to the party, don’t you think? To serve self is to produce efforts that last only as long as we do. Serving others for Jesus’ sake is an investment in eternity! Let’s pray.