Dining with a Leader of the Pharisees

Please read Luke 14:1-24.

And it happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. Luke 14:1 LSB

And it happened, probably just as Yeshua was finishing His journey through Herod’s southern dominion (the region of Peræa). This leader of the Pharisees was likely a member of the Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme court or Sanhedrin ha-Gadol “the Great Council” that consisted of 71 rabbis), and he had invited several other scholars of the Law and Pharisees to join in assessing the merits of this outsider who was teaching the people. Yeshua was invited to their Friday evening meal that welcomed in Shabbat. Such were often lavish and joyous affairs, the whole day having been spent on preparations before the Sabbath candles or lanterns were lit to herald its arrival as the day faded into evening.

Yeshua never refused an invitation, whether the inviter were a Pharisee or a publican, a friend or a foe. He never mistook the disposition of His host and always in His presence their hearts were exposed. On this occasion His host and their esteemed guests were watching Him closely to judge His response to each part of the situation before Him. The chill atmosphere of suspicion did not freeze the flow of His gentle beneficence and wise teaching. Yeshua’s meek goodness remained itself in the face of hostile observers. The miracle and the two parables are aimed straight at their errors.

To eat bread – in Jewish households, a meal is considered any repast in which bread is consumed, so Jewish meals begin with the blessing over bread and then the sharing of bread together. Bread and wine are the two food items that are always present at the Shabbat evening meal every Friday night, and prayers are said for both. In fact, on Shabbat evening it is traditional to have two challahs (loafs of bread) with the meal to symbolize the double portion of mana that the Jewish people received every Friday while wandering the desert.

And behold, in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the scholars of the Law and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
But they were silent.
And He took hold of him, healed him, and sent him away. And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?”
And they could make no reply to this.
Luke 14:2-6 LSB

The term “dropsy” is a shortening of “hydropsy” (Greek, “hudropikos, “watery looking”). Better known as edema today, this is swelling due to excess fluid in the body, leading to unsightly, bloated limbs whose movements are limited and awkward. Dropsy could be a symptom of cancer or diseases of the kidney, liver, or heart, most often congestive heart failure. In the ancient world, untreated dropsy was, eventually, always fatal. It was considered ironic that one afflicted with dropsy was swollen because of excess water in the body but was at the same time thirsty for more water. Metaphorically, dropsy was used widely as a metaphor for greed and wealth, particularly in the writings of Greek philosophers.

Before they had done the ritual handwashing and taken their seats Yeshua was confronted with this man suffering from a fatal disease that carried connotations of guilt and shame. Yeshua answered the thoughts which He saw arising in the hearts of His host and their esteemed guests: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? They refused to answer.

Displaying the kingdom of God, Yeshuatook hold of him, healed him, and sent him away.” The moment that Yeshua laid His hand on the man, his complexion returned, and his body was reduced to its ordinary size; becoming, at the same time, vigorous and fit for action so he could with ease go on his way. As He had done in the synagogue on a previous Shabbat (http://blog.renewal.asn.au/2023/09/26/repent-or-perish/), Yeshua reminded these religious leaders that the Sabbath itself is a reminder of the release from captivity that God effected. What is more fitting for such a day than to release people from the bondage of sickness and disease?

And He was telling a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they were picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not recline at the place of honor, lest someone more highly regarded than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in shame you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who recline at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-11 LSB

As each guest completed their hand washing ceremony they proceeded to the table, seeking the seats of highest honour. Jews are required to wash their hands and say a blessing before eating any meal that includes bread or matzah (the unleavened bread eaten at Passover). The ritual, known as netilat yadayim is unrelated to personal hygiene, and a person is still required to perform this ritual even if his or her hands are clean. It was customary to avoid speaking following the recitation of the netilat yadayim blessing until reciting the blessing for bread and partaking of some. Yeshua, who was waiting, watching and observing those who pushed ahead to wash their hands first so they could get the good seats at the table, used this period of enforced silence to teach His next lesson to these religious leader: everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Then Jesus said to the man who had invited Him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they may invite you in return, and you will be repaid. But when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Since they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14 BSB

Then, after He too had washed His hands, reclined at the table and the blessing on the bread had been said and partaken of, Yeshua speaks to His host. Those who would have been excluded from this man’s banquets are the very people Yeshua exhorts him to invite. Those who can do nothing to raise his social, political or financial standing are the ones he should be reaching out to, for such is the kingdom of God in action. Yeshua is challenging him to shift his focus from earthly rewards to heavenly rewards.

On hearing this, one of the people at the table with Yeshua said to Him, “How blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God!” 

But He replied, “Once a man gave a banquet and invited many people. When the time came for the banquet, he sent his slave to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come! Everything is ready!’ 
But they responded with a chorus of excuses. The first said to him, ‘I’ve just bought a field, and I have to go out and see it. Please accept my apologies.’ Another said, ‘I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to test them out. Please accept my apologies.’ Still another said, ‘I have just gotten married, so I can’t come.’  The slave came and reported these things to his master.
“Then the owner of the house, in a rage, told his slave, ‘Quick, go out into the streets and alleys of the city; and bring in the poor, the disfigured, the blind and the crippled!’ 
 The slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 
The master said to the slave, ‘Go out to the country roads and boundary walls, and insistently persuade people to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet!’”
Luke 14:15-24 CJB

The guest presumed that one would have to work hard at diligently obeying all the commandments to try to earn his way into this banquet and Yeshua paints a totally different picture. Those who were invited had all sorts of worldly excuses for not attending, they thought they wanted such an honour but in reality they were too tied to the things of this world. So, it was all those who were thought not to qualify who were sort out, brought in and insistently persuaded to attend. What the Jews had presumed had to be earnt would be received through simple acceptance of the invitation.

  1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
  2. Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998.
  3. Holy Bible. New International Version. s.l. : Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
  4. —. New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, 2020.
  5. The Lockman Foundation. The Legacy Standard Bible. [Online] https://lsbible.org/.
  6. Bible Commentaries. Luke 14:1. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: October 1st, 2023.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/14-1.htm.
  7. Hartsock, Chad. The Healing of the Man with Dropsy (Luke 14:1-6) and the Lukan Landscape. BRILL. [Online] January 1st, 2013. https://brill.com/view/journals/bi/21/3/article-p341_4.xml#:~:text=Rather%2C%20the%20dropsy%20is%20itself,notice%20of%20the%20dropsy%20metaphor..
  8. Smith, Ralph Allan. Everybody has Dropsy – Luke 14:1-24. Theopolis. [Online] July 2nd, 2019. https://theopolisinstitute.com/everybody-has-dropsy-luke-141-24/.
  9. Estes, J. Worth. VIII.39 – Dropsy from Part VIII – Major Human Diseases Past and Present. The Cambridge World History of Disease. [Online] March 28th, 2008. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/abs/cambridge-world-history-of-human-disease/dropsy/C58BF7044399EE1E911299B54E39E484.
  10. MY JEWISH LEARNING. Ritual Hand Washing Before Meals – The Netilat Yadayim practice and blessing. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: October 2nd, 2023.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hand-washing/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What do you think brought the man with “dropsy” to this Shabbat meal? Was he seeking healing? Was he a plant by the pharisees to bring occasion to accuse Jesus? What in the text has led you to this conclusion?
* Did you notice any shift in attitudes towards Jesus during the course of this meal? Explain.
* What must we do to qualify to “eat bread in the kingdom of God”?