Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments on Luke 14:7-14, the lectionary’s Gospel reading for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost. Your comments are welcome
7 Ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς κεκλημένους παραβολήν, ἐπέχων πῶς τὰς πρωτοκλισίας
ἐξελέγοντο, λέγων πρὸς αὐτούς
Yet he was saying a parable to those who were invited, seeing how they were choosing for themselves the chief place at the table, saying to them
Ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
κεκλημένους PPPart, ampl, καλέω, 1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 1b) to invite
ἐπέχων PAPart, nms, ἐπέχω, 1) to have or hold upon, apply, to observe, attend to
ἐξελέγοντο IMI, 3pl, ἐκλέγω, 1) to pick out, choose, to pick or choose out for one's self
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. The verb λέγω (to say) is very common in the gospels, particularly as it frames dialogue. What is curious about this verse is that in addition to having λέγω as a verb and a participle, it has another form of λέγω, ἐκ-λέγω. which means ‘to choose.’ (greekbible.com identifies the root as ἐκλέγομαι, which I believe is an error). I wonder if the ‘choosing’ was originally conceived as an ‘call out’ act, like saying, “Dibs on the chair of honor!” What is key throughout this pericope is that the places around the table matter and seating oneself or being seated at them is a declaration of some sort.
2. Another word, which is repeated throughout this pericope, is καλέω, which means ‘to call,’ but takes the meaning of ‘to invite’ throughout this text. The pericope can be divided into two sections, the first addressed to the invitees (vv.7-11) and the second to the inviters (12-14). I am identifying all of the καλέω verbs and participles in red.
3. I am making ἐξελέγοντο “choosing for themselves” since it is in the middle voice.
4. The narrator calls what follows a parable.
8 Οταν κληθῇς ὑπό τινος εἰς γάμους, μὴ κατακλιθῇς εἰς τὴν πρωτοκλισίαν, μήποτε ἐντιμότερός σου ᾖ κεκλημένος ὑπ' αὐτοῦ,
“When you may be invited by someone to a marriage banquet, may you not seat yourself in the chief place at the table, lest there may be someone more honored than you who may has been invited by him,
κληθῇς APSubj, 2s, καλέω, 1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 1b) to invite
κατακλιθῇς 2APSubj, 2pl, κατακλίνω, 1) in the NT in reference to eating, to make to recline
κεκλημένος PPPart, nms, καλέω, 1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 1b) to invite
ᾖ: PASubj 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. The dinner that Jesus is attending while telling this story is not identified as a marriage banquet. Perhaps those significant banquets were the most telling of how the pecking order gets established around more common table events, such as this dinner on the Sabbath at the house of a chief among the Pharisees (v.1).
2. The voice that Jesus uses in this parable is the subjunctive voice, which suggests possibility rather than declares what is (like the indicative voice). I am trying to demonstrate the use of the subjunctive voice with “when you may be invited,” “may you not seat yourself,” and “someone ... may have been invited.” Most translations do not reflect the ‘may’ language because the whole parable is posited as what might occur, rather than an indicating what is occurring.
9 καὶ ἐλθὼν ὁ σὲ καὶ αὐτὸν καλέσας ἐρεῖ σοι, Δὸς τούτῳ τόπον, καὶ τότε ἄρξῃ μετὰ αἰσχύνης τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον κατέχειν.
And, having come he having invited you also will say to you, ‘Give up this place,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the last place.
ἐλθὼν: AAPart nsm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
καλέσας: AAPart, καλέω, 1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 1b) to invite
ἐρεῖ : FAI, 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Δὸς: AAImpv, 2s, δίδωμι, 1) to give 2) to give something to someone
ἄρξῃ: FMI 2s, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
κατέχειν: PAInf, κατέχω, 1) to hold back, detain, retain 1a) from going away 1b) to restrain, hinder (the course or progress of)
1. The verb ἄρχω means ‘to lead’ or ‘to rule.’ It can also take the form of ‘to begin’ and as such is like a helping verb to the infinitive that follows. In this case, ‘to begin to take’ the least seat. The verb is in the middle voice here, so most literally it might read “to begin yourself to take ...” I picture that this is like the slow turning to ‘the long walk of shame’ for that slump-shouldered braggart who confidently called dibs on the high seat and is now being sent to the lower one.
10 ἀλλ' ὅταν κληθῇς πορευθεὶς ἀνάπεσε εἰς τὸν ἔσχατον τόπον, ἵνα ὅταν ἔλθῃ ὁ κεκληκώς σε ἐρεῖ σοι, Φίλε, προσανάβηθι ἀνώτερον: τότε ἔσται σοι δόξα ἐνώπιον πάντων τῶν συνανακειμένων σοι.
But when you may be invited, having entered, sit in the last seat, in order that when the one who has invited you may come he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher to here.’ Then it will be glory to you in the presence of all those who are feasting together with you.
κληθῇς APSubj, 2pl, καλέω, 1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 1b) to invite
πορευθεὶς APPart, nms, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on one's journey
ἀνάπεσε AAImpv, 2a, ἀναπίπτω, 1) to lie back, lie down 2) to recline at a table
ἔλθῃ: AASubj 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
κεκληκώς: PerfAPart nsm, καλέω, 1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 1b) to invite
ἐρεῖ : FAI, 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
προσανάβηθι AAImpv, 2s, προσαναβαίνω, 1) to go up further
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
συνανακειμένων PMPart gpm, συνανάκειμαι 1) to recline together, feast together 1a) of guests
1. The verb “it will be” is in the 3rd person, not the 2nd person. So I have translated it “it will be glory to you” instead of “you will have glory/ you will be glorified.”
2. Here the imperative voice comes into play. “Sit in the last seat” (spoken by Jesus) and “Go up further” spoken by the host are imperatives.
11 ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται καὶ ὁ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.
For anyone who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
ὑψῶν PAPart, nms, ὑψόω, 1) to lift up on high, to exalt 2) metaph. 2a) to raise to the very summit of opulence and prosperity 2b) to exalt, to raise to dignity, honour and happiness
ταπεινωθήσεται FPI, 3s, ταπεινόω, 1) to make low, bring low 1a) to level, reduce to a plain 1b) metaph. to bring into a humble condition, reduce to meaner circumstances
ταπεινῶν: PAPart nsm, ταπεινόω, 1) to make low, bring low 1a) to level, reduce to a plain 1b) metaph. to bring into a humble condition, reduce to meaner circumstances
ὑψωθήσεται: FPI 3s, 1) to lift up on high, to exalt 2) metaph. 2a) to raise to the very summit of opulence and prosperity 2b) to exalt, to raise to dignity, honor and happiness
1. This aphorism concludes the point of the imperatives that are in v.10 as well as the paradoxical teaching from the previous chapter, “Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (13:30)
2. This concludes the portion that was addressed to those whom Jesus observed jockeying for the choice seats in the actual dinner that he attended.
3. This paradoxical aphorism is quite familiar in various forms to readers of the gospels, that the humble will be exalted or the first will be last or whoever seeks to save one’s life must lose it, etc. This “parable” poses an interesting point of discussion. Does the commonplace topic of the parable (choice seats at a banquet) point beyond itself to a larger, deeper, more sacrificial and costly way of life – such as taking up a cross or serving the least or giving to those who can never repay? Or, since the setting of the parable is a banquet, does the parable actually address commonplace events, like choosing a seat at a banquet? I am not unaware that banquet seating meant something significant about one’s place in the community, etc.; or that the ‘honor/shame continuum’ was vastly significant in 1st century culture. Still, we tend to think that parables tell everyday events that point to deep and heavy meanings, yet the occasion of this “parable” is the topic of the parable itself. That makes it a curious parable to me.
12 Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ τῷ κεκληκότι αὐτόν, Οταν ποιῇς ἄριστον ἢ δεῖπνον, μὴ φώνει τοὺς φίλους σου μηδὲ τοὺς ἀδελφούς σου μηδὲ τοὺς συγγενεῖς σου μηδὲ γείτονας πλουσίους, μήποτε καὶ αὐτοὶ ἀντικαλέσωσίν σε καὶ γένηται ἀνταπόδομά σοι.
Yet he also was saying to the one who had invited him, “Whenever you may offer luncheon or supper, do not speak to your friends or your brothers or your relatives or wealthy neighbors, so that they also would invite you back and payback may come to you.
Ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
κεκληκότι PerfAPart, dms, καλέω, 1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 1b) to invite
ποιῇς PASubj, 2s, ποιέω, 1) to make 1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct, form, fashion, etc. 1b) to be the authors of, the cause
φώνει PAImpv, 2s, φωνέω, 1) to sound, emit a sound, to speak
ἀντικαλέσωσίν AASubj, 3pl, ἀντικαλέω, 1) to invite in turn
γένηται AMSubj, 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
1. Now, Jesus moves from addressing the invitees to addressing the inviter.
2. I am using ‘payback’ not in the vengeful negative sense, but in the ‘tit-for-tat’ sense, and to show the similarities that the prefix ἀντι and ἀντα have in the words “invite you back” and “payback.”
3. μήποτε (or μή ποτε as two different words in some versions) is built on a negative (μή, which appears as a stand along negative particle along with three uses of μηδὲ in this verse), so is typically translated as “lest,” because it speaks of a negative turn in the events. But, of course, in this verse, payback invitations are often considered a positive and desired response. That is why I am making it “so that and letting the initial μη (in the “do not” phrase) continue to cast its shadow over what follows. Already what dinner-hosts consider positive and desired responses – payback invitations from the ‘right people’ – are called into question.
13ἀλλ' ὅταν δοχὴν ποιῇς, κάλει πτωχούς, ἀναπείρους, χωλούς, τυφλούς:
But when you may give a banquet, invite poor, maimed, lame, blind;
ποιῇς PASubj, 2s, ποιέω, 1) to make 1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct, form, fashion, etc.
κάλει PAImpv, 2s, καλέω, 1) to call 1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 1b) to invite
1. The names for invitational events grows. In v.1, Jesus enters the house (φαγεῖν ἄρτον) “to eat bread.” In v.8 Jesus speaks of (γάμους) a wedding banquet. In v.12 Jesus says (ἄριστον ἢ δεῖπνον) a luncheon or supper [or, something like]. And now Jesus speaks of (δοχὴν) a banquet. While I don’t know the significance of Luke’s use of all of these different words, I find that he uses them to be curious.
2. Among poor communities in El Salvador, I’ve learned that some couples live together as a family without being officially ‘married,’ not because they are “living in sin” (the folks there don’t call it that and the Priests bless their relationships), but because a wedding is a very expensive affair and many families simply cannot afford them. I wonder if the various terms for meals might address various events, some exclusive and others more common.
3. Again we have a subjunctive verb (you may give) followed by an imperative (invite).
14καὶ μακάριος ἔσῃ, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἀνταποδοῦναί σοι, ἀνταποδοθήσεται γάρ σοι ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τῶν δικαίων.
And you will be blessed, because they do not have [the means] to pay you back, for it will be paid back to you in the resurrection of the righteous.”
ἔσῃ FMI, 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἔχουσιν PAI, 3pl, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
ἀνταποδοῦναί: AAInf, ἀνταποδίδωμι, 1) in a good sense, to repay, requite 2) in a bad sense, penalty and vengeance
ἀνταποδοθήσεται FPI, 3pl, ἀνταποδίδωμι, 1) in a good sense, to repay, requite 2) in a bad sense, penalty and vengeance
1. I inserted the words ‘the means’ because while I am trying to preserve the verb “have” I do not intend this to read “they don’t have to pay you back” as if there is no obligation. It is less a matter of obligation as means. It’s not that they will not; it is that they cannot.
2. Again, it seems counter-intuitive to say that “you will be blessed because they cannot pay you back,” unless one has a sense of the eternal that Jesus brings to his teachings. It is not strict altruism, because it does presume a reward and not just “do this because it’s the right thing to do.” It could be something like ‘future-time altruism,’ the expectation that God will right all of the wrongs at the resurrection.
3. This sense of expecting a reward in the future, because payback (or justice, if you will) is not always immediate, shows up in philosophical discourse. Immanuel Kant postulated the immortality of the soul precisely because good deeds often go unrewarded and evil deeds often go unpunished in life as we know it. The philosophical value at stake is whether there is a moral structure to the universe. Kant argued that if there is such a thing as morality and if it is true (and not just an inspiring idea) and since there is not evident reward or punishment in this life, that is enough to suppose that they must be more to the human soul than this life. I am not suggesting that Jesus embraces the philosophical notion of ‘the immortality of the soul’ or that he has the intention of writing a critique of practical philosophy, I do think his presumption about the resurrection carries many of the same assumptions that Kant’s argument regarding immortality does.
4. For those who may not be inclined to believe in the afterlife, especially as the place of ultimate reward and punishment, the problems that the doctrines of immortality and resurrection are trying to address still merit consideration. Is there a moral fabric to the universe? Or, is there not? I think this is the real question behind many politically charged questions in the public sphere today.
I find these parables to show what is meant by the paradoxical teachings in Luke of losing one’s life in order to save it (9:24) of the first becoming the last (13:30) and the humble becoming exalted (14:10). There is, throughout these teachings, the underlying trust that God is just and that, rather than striving for immediate payback, one can trust that God will be faithful in rewarding acts of self-giving. In the first parable, the result is immediate and results in shaming/honoring. In the second parable, the result is not immediate, but attributed to the power of the resurrection. What is not evident here is a strictly deontological teaching – “invite the poor, the blind, etc. because it is your duty” or “because it is the right thing.” These teachings seem to accept that to extend oneself in giving a meal rightly results in some kind of payback. Does that make this parable something like a ‘wisdom saying’ rather than something like ‘the law’?