The Pharisees Were Right

Photo by Megan Murphy

Photo by Megan Murphy

In Luke 14, Jesus tells a story at a Pharisee’s dinner party. In short, Jesus’ story is about a master who wants to throw a banquet. The invitees have lots of excuses and they choose not to attend. Instead, the host invites unlikely guests, more specifically, the poor and crippled and blind and lame.

There is a lot going on in this scene. Suffice it to say that Jesus is using this parable to describe the glories of the Great Messianic Banquet (Isaiah 25) which he is now hosting, before the Pharisees’ very eyes. These glories are mostly lost on them, for all sorts of reasons.

Most prominently, however, is that the Pharisees had come to a place where they did not conceive of themselves to be hungry and thirsty for the feast Jesus offers. See, Jesus offers a feast for the poor and crippled and blind and lame. And he offers a feast only for those people. They do not think of those words when they think of themselves. To extend another metaphor from Luke 5, Jesus has come as a doctor for the sick, and only the sick. He has come for sinners and for sinners only. They are at a point where they do not deem themselves to be sick or sinful. Therefore, is is simple logic: what Jesus offers is not necessary for them.

To understand the magnitude of this story we have to understand that the Pharisees are exactly right. They were on to something essential about Jesus’ work. Their instincts told them, “If you are not hungry or thirsty or poor or crippled or blind or lame or sick or sinful then you have no need of Jesus.”

The Great Banquet Host only feeds hungry stomachs and only quenches parched throats. The Great Physician has never once healed anyone who was already well. He doesn’t do check-ups. The Great Savior only saves sinners. Martin Luther wrote:

“God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life to one but the dead. He does not give saintliness to any but sinners, nor wisdom to any but fools. In short: He has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace. Therefore no arrogant saint, or just or wise man can be material for God…”

-Luther W.A. 1.183f

To be clear, if you are none of those things that Luther mentions, you have no need for Jesus.

But if any of those markers mark you in any way, then the banquet table has an infinite number of leaves that can be added to expand it very, very (infinitely!) large. The finest fare, dishes of true and rich food, tumble out from the kitchen. The wine, well-aged and well-refined, flows in abundance (Isaiah 25). For the poor, riches unimaginable await. For the blind, eyes can be opened and sight restored. For the lame, leaping is possible (Isaiah 35:5-6). For the sick, health and wholeness are there, for the taking. For the sinner, forgiveness is right on the table.

All of these glories can be for the Pharisee, too. This is the whole point of Jesus’ prophetic pleading. The only fitness that he requires from them, however, is that they know their need of him.