Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.XIV.
(1) Into the house of one of the chief Pharisees.—Better, of the rulers of the Pharisees. The meaning of the phrase is probably more definite than that suggested by the English. The man was either a “ruler” in the same sense as Nicodemus (John 3:1), or the rich young man in Luke 18:18 - i.e., a member of the Sanhedrin (which seems most likely)—or else occupied a high position in the lay-hierarchy (if the phrase may be allowed) which had developed itself in the organisation of Pharisaism.
To eat bread on the Sabbath day.—Sabbath feasts were then, as at a later time, part of the social life of the Jews, and were often—subject, of course, to the condition that the food was cold—occasions of great luxury and display. Augustine speaks of them as including dancing and song, and the “Sabbath luxury” of the Jews became a proverb. On the motives of the Pharisee—probably half respect and half curiosity—see Notes on Luke 7:36.
And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy.(2) A certain man before him which had the dropsy.—This is the only miracle of the kind recorded in the Gospels. The term which St. Luke uses is strictly technical (hydropikos), and we may fairly see in the narrative another illustration of his professional character. He, more than others, had been led to specific inquiries as to the nature of the diseases which our Lord had healed. (See Introduction.) The man may have been an invited guest, or the feast may have been one of the semi-public ones in which the richer Pharisees displayed their hospitality.
And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?(3) Unto the lawyers.—See Note on Matthew 22:35. The teaching of our Lord is identical in substance, and nearly so in form, with that in Luke 6:6-11, Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6. Here, however, it will be noticed, our Lord takes the initiative in the controversy, whereas before the scribes and Pharisees had asked Him the question. Possibly some report of what had then passed had reached the ears of those who were now present, and caused them to be silent both before and after the question.
And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go;(4) And he took him.—Better, he laid hold on him. The healing was, in this instance, effected by actual contact.
And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?(5) Which of you shall have an ass or an ox . . .—The line of thought is all but identical with that of Luke 13:15. Here, as there, the outward features of Jewish life are the same as they had been in Exodus 20:17, and Isaiah 1:3. The “ox and the ass” are the beasts which common men use and value. The horse belongs to conquerors and kings. This is said with reference to the received text. Many of the best MSS., however, read, “Which of you shall have a son, or an ox . . .?” and, on the whole, this reading seems likely to be the true one. The familiar combination of the ox and the ass would naturally lead a transcriber to substitute ῠνος (ass) for ὑιός (son). There would be nothing to tempt any one to a change in the opposite direction.
And will not straightway pull him out.—The words appeal to the common action and natural impulse of men, but the casuistry of the Pharisees had, as a matter of fact, given a different answer. Food might be let down to the ox or ass, but no effort to pull him out was to be made till the Sabbath rest was over.
And they could not answer him again to these things.(6) And they could not answer him again.—The Greek is, perhaps, a little more emphatic—“They had no power, they were powerless to answer him.”
And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them,(7) And he put forth a parable.—The passage has the interest of being, in conjunction with Luke 11:43, the germ of the great invective of Matthew 23:6, and the verses that follow. (See Notes there.)
Chief rooms.—Better, chief places, or chief couches; literally, the chief places to recline in after the Eastern fashion. This, again, implies the semi-public character of the feast. The host did not at first place his guests according to his own notions of fitness. They were left to struggle for precedence. What follows is hardly a parable in our modern sense of the term, but is so called as being something more than a mere precept, and as illustrated by a half-dramatic dialogue.
When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;(8) Sit not down.—Literally, recline not.
Lest a more honourable man than thou . . .—The words imply that the common practice was for the guests to seat themselves; then, as in the parable of the wedding garment (Matthew 22:11), the host came in “to see the guests.”
And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.(9) And thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.—At first sight the words seem to suggest lower motives than those by which the disciples of Christ should regulate their lives—an artificial and calculating rather than a real humility. Three explanations may be given of what is a very real difficulty—(1) That all precepts bearing directly upon social ethics start naturally, as in the Book of Proverbs (from which the form of the teaching is, indeed, directly derived, comp. Proverbs 25:6-7), from the prudential rather than the spiritual view of life. (2) That there is in this counsel an adaptation of teaching that, left to itself, would have been higher, to the weaknesses of those who listened; a method, that as we have noted elsewhere, can hardly be defined in strictly accurate language, but, in its merely human aspects, might be regarded as involving some tinge of grave and solemn irony. From their own point of view even, they were grasping at the shadow and losing the substance, poor as that substance was. Their restless vanity was suicidal. (3) There is the deep ethical truth that every victory obtained, even under the influence of a lower motive, over a dominant weakness or strong temptation, strengthens the habit of self-control, and that the power thus developed tends in the nature of things to go on to further and yet further victories.
But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.(10) Sit down in the lowest room.—Better, as before, recline for the verb, and place, or couch, for the noun.
Friend.—The Greek word is not the same as in Matthew 20:13 (where see Note), Matthew 22:12; Matthew 26:50, but is the same as in John 11:11; John 15:14. The difference is suggestive. The first word addressed to the humble and lowly guest speaks of confidence and affection. He is welcomed as, in the highest sense, the “friend” of the giver of the feast.
For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.(11) Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased.—The reproduction of the teaching in words which are almost an echo of these, in 1Peter 5:5, is interesting as showing the impression which it had made on the minds of the disciples.
Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.(12) A dinner or a supper.—The two words were used respectively for the morning and the evening meal—the former, like the Continental déjeûner, being taken commonly a little before noon, the latter, about sunset.
Thy friends, nor thy brethren.—The words were clearly chosen as including the classes of guests who were then present. Our Lord saw in that Sabbath feast nothing but an ostentatious hospitality, calculating on a return in kind. It might not be wrong in itself, but it could take no place, as the Pharisee clearly thought it would do, in the list of good works by which he sought to win God’s favour. The very fact that it met with its reward on earth excluded it, almost ipso facto, from the reward of the resurrection of the just.
But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:(13) When thou makest a feast.—Literally, as in Luke 5:29, a reception. In practice, it need hardly be said, the form of obedience to the precept must, of necessity, vary with the varying phases of social life, and with the lessons of experience. Relief given privately, thoughtfully, discriminatively, may be better both for the giver, as less ostentatious, and for the receivers, as tending to the formation of a higher character, than the open feast of the Eastern form of benevolence. The essence of the beatitude, as distinct from its form, remains for all who give freely to those who can give them no recompense in return, who have nothing to offer but their thanks and prayers.
And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.(14) At the resurrection of the just.—The passage has the interest of being the first occurrence of the word “resurrection” in our Lord’s teaching. On this point our Lord, while rebuking the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, accepted the fundamental doctrine of their system, and so furnished a precedent for St. Paul’s conduct in Acts 23:6.
And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.(15) Blessed is he that shall eat bread . . .—The form of the exclamation was obviously determined by the words which our Lord had just spoken. It may have been a more or less familiar formula among devout Jews who expected the coming of the Christ. It may have embodied some recollections of the great discourse at Capernaum (John 6:26-59). On the whole it seems more natural to see in it a burst of honest, unwonted enthusiasm, kindled by sympathy with what our Lord had said, than to regard it as spoken hypocritically, with a view to drawing from His lips some heretical utterance that might ensure His condemnation.
Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:(16) A certain man made a great supper.—Historically this has the interest of being the first occurrence of the “feast” imagery in our Lord’s teaching. Here, as with so many of His parables, it is suggested by the occasion. Afterwards, as in Matthew 22:1-13, it is reproduced in an altered and expanded form. Here, as there, the giver of the feast is God.
And bade many.—The sequel determines the primary application of the word to the Jewish people. But it need hardly be said that it admits of manifold secondary, or even tertiary, applications through the whole history of the many churches of Christendom.
And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.(17) And sent his servant.—The servant stands in this parable as the representative of the whole order of prophets and apostles—of all who, like the Baptist and the Twelve, had been sent to invite men to the Kingdom. “The time of supper” is, in the primary application, the time of our Lord’s coming, when the Kingdom of Heaven was first proclaimed as nigh at hand. All things—pardon, peace, blessedness—were now ready for those who would accept them.
And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.(18) They all with one consent . . .—The Greek phrase, as the italics show, is elliptical; but the English idiom expresses its meaning whether we take the omitted noun to be “voice,” or “consent” or “mind.”
To make excuse.—To beg off would, perhaps, be too colloquial, but it exactly expresses the force of the Greek verb.
I have bought a piece of ground.—The Greek noun implies a little more than the English—better, perhaps, a farm (see Notes on Mark 6:36); and the tense in each case is strictly one in which a man naturally speaks of the immediate past—“I bought but now.”
And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.(19) Five yoke of oxen.—The number was one which came within the reach of any peasant farmer of moderate competence. (Comp. Elisha’s twelve yoke of oxen, 1Kings 19:19.)
And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.(20) I have married a wife.—It may be noted that the Law of Moses allowed men to plead this, and the building of a house, or planting of a vineyard, as a ground for exemption from military service (Deuteronomy 20:5-7). The sin of the invited guests was that they treated the invitation to the feast as though it were as burdensome as a military conscription. In the interpretation of the parable, the bearing of this is obvious. Men are invited to the highest spiritual blessings, and they look askance at the invitation, as though it called them to what was simply a weariness to the flesh, and “beg off” under a hundred miserable pretences.
So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.(21) The master of the house being angry . . .—The element of righteous indignation is more strongly emphasised in the analogous parable of Matthew 22:6-7, where the mere apathy of those who were invited passes into scornful outrage.
The streets and lanes . . .—See Note on Matthew 6:2. The former word includes the “piazza” or “place” of an Eastern town; the latter is the long, narrow “street” or “lane” hardly wide enough for a man to ride through. It is the word used for the “street called straight” in Damascus (Acts 9:11). In the application of the parable these represent the by-ways of Jewish life—the suburbs, and the wretched courts and alleys, which no scribe deigned to enter, and which lay entirely outside the notice and the functions of the priesthood. “The poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind” are the publicans and sinners and harlots and men of violence, who obeyed the summons and pressed eagerly into the kingdom. The repetition of the same four adjectives as had been used in Luke 14:13 is singularly suggestive. Our Lord was following, in the spiritual feast of His kingdom, the very rule which He had given for those who made great feasts on earth. Each class may possibly represent some spiritual fact which would seem to men a disqualification, but which was, for the pitying love of Christ, the very ground of invitation and acceptance.
And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.(22) It is done as thou hast commanded.—Literally, What thou didst command is come to pass.
And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.(23) The highways and hedges.—In the frame-work of the parable, this points to a yet lower class of the population of an Eastern country—to the tramps and the squatters who had no home, and who were content to sleep under the shelter of a hedge or fence. For the most part, these were low walls or palisades, rather than hedges in the English sense of the word. In the application of the parable, the men thus brought in can hardly be any other than the wanderers of the outlying Gentile world.
Compel them to come in.—It would have seemed all but incredible, had it not been too painfully and conspicuously true, that men could have seen in these words a sanction to the employment of force and pains and penalties as means of converting men to the faith of Christ. To us it seems almost a truism to say that such means may produce proselytes and hypocrites, but cannot possibly produce converts. There is, of course, something that answers to this “compulsion” in the work of Christian preachers, but the weapons of their warfare are not carnal (2Corinthians 10:4), and the constraint which they bring to bear on men is that of “the love of Christ” (2Corinthians 5:14) The only instances of the other kind of compulsion in the Apostolic age are when Saul “compelled” men and women to blaspheme (Acts 26:11), or the Judaisers “compelled” Gentile converts to be circumcised (Galatians 2:14; Galatians 6:12).
That my house may be filled.—It is obvious that we cannot introduce space-limits into the interpretation of the parable. The gates of the Father’s house are open for evermore, and in its “many mansions” (John 14:2) there is, and ever will be, room for all who come.
For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.(24) None of those men which were bidden . . .—Here again we may not press a literal interpretation of the parable. The absolute exclusion of the whole company of the first-invited guests has its anti-type in the general rejection of Israel from fellowship with the Church of Christ. It lies in the very nature of a parable that it deals roughly with general facts, and so it passes over in this instance what would have answered to the admission of a chosen few, “the remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5.)
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.(26) If any man come to me, and hate not his father.—Like words had been spoken before, as in Matthew 10:37-39, where see Notes. Here they appear in a yet stronger form, “not hating” taking the place of “loving more,” and they are spoken, not to the Twelve only, but to the whole multitude of eager would-be followers. Self-renunciation, pushed, if necessary, to the extremest issues, is with Jesus the one indispensable condition of discipleship. He asks for nothing less than the heart, and that cannot be given by halves.
And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.(27) Whosoever doth not bear his cross . . .—See Note on Matthew 10:38. As now uttered, however, the words had a fresh significance as interpreted by what the disciples had heard from their Master’s lips between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (Luke 9:22-23). That “bearing of the cross” was becoming every day more clear and terrible in its growing nearness.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?(28-30) Which of you, intending to build a tower . .?—The words do not depend for their meaning on any local or personal allusion, but it is quite possible that their force may have been heightened for those who heard them by the memory of recent facts. Pilate had begun to build—certainly an aqueduct, probably a tower—and had not been able to finish. (See Notes on Luke 13:4; Matthew 27:16.) He had not “counted the cost,” and when he was hindered from laying hands on the Corban, or treasure of the Temple, his resources failed.
Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?(31) What king, going to make war against another king . .?—Here also there may have been a side-glance at contemporary history. The Tetrarch’s divorce of his first wife had involved him in a war with her father Aretas, an Arabian king or ethnarch (see Note on Luke 3:14), in which his army was destroyed, and the Jewish historian sees in this the commencement of all his subsequent misfortunes (Jos. Ant. v., 18:5, § 1).
In the spiritual interpretation of the two parables, the tower reminds us of the house in Matthew 7:24-27, and so stands for the structure of a holy life reared on the one Foundation; the warfare brings to our remembrance the conflict described in Matthew 12:29. Here it stands partly for the conflict which every Christian carries on against sin, the world, and the devil, and of which we should take a clear estimate before we enter on it, partly for the greater war on which Christ Himself had entered, and of which He too had counted the cost— that being, in His case, nothing less than the sacrifice of His own life.
Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.(32) Desireth conditions of peace.—Literally, the things that make for peace. The phrase is the same as that in Luke 19:42, “the things that belong unto thy peace.” Are we to see any special significance in this addition to the general teaching of the previous verse, and if so, what is it? The answer seems to be that what our Lord teaches is the necessity of thoroughness in what we do. If we cannot make up our minds to the cost involved in warring against the world and its evil, we had better come to terms with it, and live in such peace as we can thus gain. If we shrink from the thought of fighting against God, we had better accept His conditions of peace. The worst folly of all is to enter into the conflict with a wavering will, not caring to know what “the things belonging to our peace” actually are, or to endeavour to stand apart in an impossible neutrality. Taking the highest application of the parable, He who spoke it had counted the cost, and therefore carried on the war with evil to the last, and would make no terms with it.
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.(33) Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not . . .—Better, that renounceth not. This, then, was the immediate lesson which the company of eager disciples had to learn: to say good-bye to their “all,” whatever that might be. Fishing-nets and hired servants, or great possessions, or ease and safety, or besetting sins, or fancied righteousness—all had to be renounced. The word for “forsake” is that which was afterwards used in the baptismal formula, “I renounce the devil and all his works,” and the same as that which is translated “bidding farewell” in Luke 9:61, Acts 18:18.
Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?(34) Salt is good.—The words are all but identical with those of Matthew 5:13, and resemble those of Mark 9:50. (See Notes on those passages.) They appear now, however, in a very different context, and the train of thought is not at first sight so clear. The common element in all three instances is that salt represents the purifying element in life, the principle of unselfish devotion. Here, the special aspect of that element is self-renunciation. In proportion as that is incomplete, the salt loses its savour. The question, Wherewith shall it be salted? is asked as in the accents of almost hopeless sadness. What other purifying influences can be brought to bear on us when the love of Christ has failed?
It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.(35) It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill.—The illustration, differing as it does from that in Matthew 5:13 and Mark 9:50, proves the independence of the saying as here recorded. A new use of salt, distinct from that of preserving food, or its symbolic meaning in sacrifice, is brought before us, and becomes the ground-work of a new parable. The use is obviously a lower and humbler one than the others. The salt serves, mingling with the dung-hill, to manure and prepare the ground for the reception of the seed. Bear this in mind, and the interpretation of the parable, connected, as it thus is, with that of the Fig-tree (see Note on Luke 13:8), is obvious. A corrupt church cannot even exercise an influence for good over the secular life of the nation which it represents. The religious man whose religion has become an hypocrisy cannot even be a good citizen, or help others forward in the duties of their active life by teaching or example. The church and the individual man are alike fit only to be “cast out”—to become, i.e., a by-word and proverb of reproach. Our Lord’s sense, if we may so speak, of the depth and fulness of the meaning of His words, is shown by His emphatic reproduction of the words that had accompanied His first parable, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”