In Luke’s gospel, the Pharisees are generally depicted as hostile to Jesus. This almost certainly reflects the situation at the time the gospels are being written rather than the time of Jesus’ ministry when the Pharisees were a minority group of well-respected experts in the Law. After the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple some four decades after the death of Jesus, Sadduccean and Essene Judaism disappeared and there followed a sad parting of the ways between the Pharisaic Jewish leadership and the Christian Jews who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ or Messiah.
Today’s gospel has Jesus under scrutiny as he dines in the home of a leading Pharisee. Despite the hostility, he is not deterred from expressing his opinion and as usual he does so in the form of a story that comes from the experience of his hearers. He first addresses the guests and then the host. The guests are clearly not from the lower echelons of society. They are people who receive invitations to wedding banquets where places of honour are reserved for the most distinguished guests. Jesus appeals to their fairly normal fear of being shamed before others. He also reminds them of the principle of reversal that operates in God’s realm where the first are last and the last are first. This is consistent with Luke’s theology expressed most powerfully in Mary’s Magnificat. The reader of the gospel knows that God puts down the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly.
Jesus’ advice for the Pharisee who hosts this meal is more removed from first century Palestinian experience than is his advice for the guests: when you have a luncheon or dinner, invite the destitute and those with disabilities. In other words, invite those considered unclean by observant Jews rather than those who have the capacity to return the hospitality. This is an outrageous suggestion, as outrageous and confronting and inclusive as is God’s dream for all people. Though we live in different, more egalitarian times, this teaching is confronting for us as well. It is easy to welcome like-minded people into our homes and our Eucharistic table. It is not so easy to be open to those who see the world differently from us and have different sets of values, even if they have something to teach us about life and gospel living. At the very least, we are invited to look on them with love rather than hostility.