By J.R. Miller
"One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, He was being carefully watched." Our Savior did not refuse any invitation to a proper social function. His example is important for us. He wants His people to be IN the world, though not OF the world. He does not desire us to withdraw from men--but to live with them in life's common relations, only being careful all the while--that we live the true life as citizens of heaven. We are to be the salt of the earth--our influence tending to purify and sweeten the life about us. We are to be the light of the world--shedding brightness upon earth's darkness, helping weakness, comforting sorrow.
John the Baptist would not have accepted the invitation of this Pharisee. He was an ascetic. His theory of life required him to keep out of the world, witnessing against its evil, by withdrawing from it. But Jesus did not follow John in this. He gave men a new type of religion. His first public act, after returning from His temptation, was to accept an invitation to a wedding feast. His theory of life was that the truest and most effective protest against the world's evil--may be made from within, by living a holy, godly, and beautiful life--in the midst of the world's evil.
Jesus had a reason for accepting social courtesies. He wished to show the divine sympathy with all human life. We used to be told that He often wept--but never smiled. But we cannot think of Jesus never smiling. His whole life was one of gladness. He went among men--that they might know He was interested in their lives.
Life was not easy for most people in our Lord's day. Their work was hard, and they were not kindly treated by those who employed them. Their burdens were heavy. They were poorly paid. Jesus wanted them to know that He was their friend; that He cared for them, sympathized with them. He was ready for every opportunity to get near to them, that He might do them good. When He attended dinners, feasts, or weddings--He was not satisfied merely to eat and talk over the empty trivialities which are usually discussed around the table on such occasions. He found time always--to say some serious, thoughtful words, among the lighter things--which those who heard Him would not forget. Some of His most important teachings were given at feasts.
We scarcely know why this Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him. We cannot suppose that it was really a cordial, friendly invitation; that he wished either to honor Jesus or to have the pleasure and privilege of entertaining Him and hearing His profitable conversation. Possibly it was a sinister motive which led him to give the invitation--a plot to get Jesus near to him, that he might catch Him in His words--or lead Him to do something or say something which could be used against Him. It may bej that the presence of the man with the dropsy that day--was part of the same evil intention. It was on the Sabbath, and if Jesus would heal this man on that day, there would then be cause for criticism, such healing being considered by the Pharisees, a desecration of the Sabbath. Of course, the sick man may have come in of his own accord, drawn perhaps by the hope that Jesus would hear him. But there is room for the suspicion that his being present that day, was part of a scheme to get Jesus to violate the Sabbath rules, as they were interpreted by the scribes.
Jesus was not afraid of any such plots. He never thought about expediency or diplomacy, when an opportunity for doing good came His way. We are told that He "answering spoke." What did He answer? No question was asked Him, so far as we are told. Evidently He answered the thoughts of the lawyers and Pharisees who were watching to see if He would heal the sick man. Jesus is always aware of what is going on within us. Our thoughts are as open to Him--as our acts are to our neighbors! We should not forget this when our thoughts and feelings, are not what they should be.
The question Jesus asked brought up the subject of Sabbath healing. The Jews considered it wrong. But they did not care to answer Him just now--so "they held their peace." They wanted Him to heal the man, that they might bring their charge against Him. Jesus healed the man. Thus He teaches us to think for ourselves in matters of duty--and not to be influence by what we suppose other people will say. Too many people take their moralities largely from the opinions of others, doing this and not doing that, to meet the approval of others. But that was not the way Jesus did. His rule of life--was God's opinion. "I do always the things that are pleasing to Him." That should be our rule of life.
Jesus asked another question. "If one of you has an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" This question His critics would not answer. They admitted that it was right to relive a dumb animal in such a plight. But if it was right on the Sabbath to help an ox out of a pit--how could it be wrong to help a suffering man out of his trouble on the same holy day? Surely a man is worth more than an ox, dearer in God's sight, and we should be more willing to relieve a man than an ox. Thus Jesus stripped the Sabbath of the disfigurement which human hands had put upon it, and set it forth in its beauty, what God meant it to be when He first gave it to man.
There was another lesson which Jesus wanted to teach that day. So He "put forth a parable." He had noticed that as they took their places at the dinner, the guests scrambled for the best places at the table, the seats of honor. There is much of this same spirit yet in the world. One sees it on railway trains, on steamers in hotels and boarding houses, almost everywhere. Nearly everybody wants the best--and scrambles to get it. Sometimes it is seen, too, where members of families try to get the choicest things on the table, the most comfortable seat, or the brightest, airiest room. Often bitter strife occurs, and harsh wrangles take place between brothers and sisters--each demanding the best. It will be wise to study this lesson very carefully and to apply it to ourselves--the kind of application we should always make first in studying Christ's words.
Jesus said, "When someone invites you to a wedding feast--do not take the place of honor." We would say that common politeness would prevent any guest at a dinner from rushing for the seat of honor. It is understood in all refined society, that these favored places are for the guests who are specially honored that day. Even these guests, though they know they are to have the distinction, do not take their places unbidden--but wait to be invited to them. "But when you are invited, take the lowest place," said the Master further.
Thus the religion of Christ teaches the most beautiful humility and courtesy. We are not too seek to be ministered unto--but to minister (see Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45); not to get distinction and praise--but to live humbly and quietly.
Kossuth said that of all natural emblems, he would choose the DEW as the emblem for his life. It makes no noise, seeks no praise, writes no record--but is content to sink away and be lost in the flowers and grass blades, and to be remembered only in the fresh beauty and sweetness it imparts to all nature.
Those who always demand that they shall be recognized and that their names shall be attached to everything they do, have not learned the mind of Christ. Our aim should be to seek to have Christ honored, then to do good to others, and to be remembered only in the blessing and good which we leave in other lives.
"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Jesus tells us, further, that those who look after their own honor--shall fail to be honored, while those who live humbly, modestly, without seeking distinction or praise, shall receive the best promotions.
The last teaching of the passage is also very important. "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind--and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." Mary Lyon used to say to her graduates, "Go where nobody else wants to go--and do what nobody else wants to do." That is another version of the teaching of Jesus here. The rich have plenty of invitations--Christian love should seek to give pleasure to those who do not have much of it. If you are at a party, and there is one person present who seems to get no attention, that is the one whom, according to our Lord's teaching here, you should be most interested in and should take particular pains to make happy. Among your neighbors are some who have many things to make up their enjoyment--friends, money, health, books, social opportunities. But there are others who lack in these regards. While you are to love all your neighbors, your love should show itself especially toward the latter class--those who have less and who need you more.