One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.
7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
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. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
The people of ancient Rome had some odd customs when it came to honoring their dead relatives. In wealthier strata of society, the family of a deceased person would have an annual memorial meal to honor a deceased person, often in proximity to the place where the deceased’s ashes had been interred. In fact, usually a person who died allocated money to pay for the meal. It wasn’t long before the Christians latched onto this practice. You might have grown up attending a church with a cemetery around it. You have surely driven past such a church at some point. In the oldest churches of Christendom, it appears that the cemetery was there first. Christians started building churches to house the eucharistic gatherings which were taking place in the cemeteries, usually at the tomb of some heroic martyr or other notable Christian.
Had you been alive in Rome in the late 4th century or early fifth, you might have even been able to attend a particular mingling of this practice and the words which Jesus speaks here. Toward the end of the century a very wealthy man left a detailed set of instructions in his will. Outside his large tomb there was to be a long stone table. Every day a meal was to be prepared and 100 poor people from the city of Rome were to be given a meal to eat at that table. He saw this as a way to listen to and heed Jesus’ words in the final paragraph of this text. His motivation was simply that he wanted to be repaid at the resurrection of the just. He did not want his family to gather, he wanted to feed the poor, those who could not repay him.
I don’t know how long the funds for the free feast outside the grave of the wealthy man in Rome lasted. I imagine that Alaric’s invasion and sacking of Rome in 410 might have put an end to it. I do know that Jesus’ words have continued to have a profound impact on the attitude of his followers to the impoverished and needy people of our communities. The Pharisees put a man with a visible disease across from Jesus, using a human being as a trap of sorts, hoping either to ensnare Jesus or that he would fail to help the poor man, who was suffering from what we would call edema today. Jesus sees the man, a needy man, helps and quickly gets him away from there. He then calls on us to have a care for others and not for ourselves first. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if everyone did that?