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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Luke 14



Verses 1-35

Chapter 14


14:1-6 On the Sabbath day Jesus had gone into the house of one of the rulers who belonged to the Pharisees to eat bread; and they were watching him. And--look you-- there was a man before him who had dropsy. Jesus said to the Scribes and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Or, is it not?" They kept silent. So he took him and healed him and sent him away. He said to them, "Suppose one of you has an ass or an ox, and it falls into a well, will he not immediately pull it out, even if it is on the Sabbath day?" And they had no answer to these things.

In the gospel story there are seven incidents in which Jesus healed on the Sabbath day. In Luke we have already studied the story of the healing of Simon's mother-in-law (Luke 4:38); of the man with the withered hand (Luke 6:6); and of the woman who was bent for eighteen years (Luke 13:13). To these John adds the story of the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:9); and of the man born blind (John 9:14). Mark adds one more--the healing of the demon-possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21).

Anyone would think that a record like that would have made a man beloved of all; but it is the tragic fact that every miracle of healing that Jesus wrought on the Sabbath day only made the scribes and Pharisees more certain that he was dangerous and irreligious and must at all costs be stopped. If we are to understand what happened to Jesus it is essential to remember that the orthodox Jews of his day regarded him as a law-breaker. He healed on the Sabbath; therefore he worked on the Sabbath; therefore he broke the law.

On this occasion a Pharisee invited him to a meal on the Sabbath. The law had its meticulous regulations about Sabbath meals. Of course no food could be cooked on the Sabbath; that would have been to work. All food had to be cooked on the Friday; and, if it was necessary to keep it hot, it must be kept hot in such a way that it was not cooked any more! So it is laid down that food to be kept warm for the Sabbath must not be put into "oil dregs, manure, salt, chalk or sand, whether moist or dry, nor into straw, grape-skins, flock or vegetables, if these are damp, though it may be if they are dry. It may be, however, put into clothes, amidst fruits, pigeons' feathers and flax tow." It was the observance of regulations like this that the Pharisees and scribes regarded as religion. No wonder they could not understand Jesus!

It is by no means impossible that the Pharisees "planted" the man with the dropsy in this house to see what Jesus would do. They were watching him; and the word used for watching is the word used for "interested and sinister espionage." Jesus was under scrutiny.

Without hesitation Jesus healed the man. He knew perfectly well what they were thinking; and he quoted their own law and practice to them. Open wells were quite common in Palestine, and were not infrequently the cause of accidents (compare Exodus 21:33). It was perfectly allowable to rescue a beast which had fallen in. Jesus, with searing contempt, demands how, if it be right to help an animal on the Sabbath, it can be wrong to help a man.

This passage tells us certain things about Jesus and his enemies.

(i) It shows us the serenity with which Jesus met life. There is nothing more trying than to be under constant and critical scrutiny. When that happens to most people they lose their nerve and, even more often, lose their temper. They become irritable; and while there may be greater sins than irritability there is none that causes more pain and heartbreak. But even in things which would have broken most men's spirit, Jesus remained serene. If we live with him, he can make us like himself.

(ii) It is to be noted that Jesus never refused any man's invitation of hospitality. To the end he never abandoned hope of men. To hope to change them or even to appeal to them, might be the forlornest of forlorn hopes, but he would never let a chance go. He would not refuse even an enemy's invitation. It is as clear as daylight that we will never make our enemies our friends if we refuse to meet them and talk with them.

(iii) The most amazing thing about the scribes and Pharisees is their staggering lack of a sense of proportion. They would go to endless trouble to formulate and to obey their petty rules and regulations; and yet they counted it a sin to ease a sufferer's pain on the Sabbath day.

If a man had only one prayer to pray he might well ask to be given a sense of proportion. The things which disturb the peace of congregations are often trifles. The things which divide men from men and which destroy friendships are often little things to which no sensible man, in his saner moments, would allow any importance. The little things can bulk so large that they can fill the whole horizon. Only if we put first things first will all things take their proper place--and love comes first.


14:7-11 Jesus spoke a parable to the invited guests, for he noticed how they chose the first places at the table. "When you are bidden by someone to a marriage feast," he said. "do not take your place at table in the first scat, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited, for in that case the man who invited you will come and say to you, 'Give place to this man.' And then, with shame, you will begin to take the lowest place. But, when you have been invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that, when the man who has invited you comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, come up higher.' Then you will gain honour in front of all who sit at table with you. For he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus chose a homely illustration to point an eternal truth. If a quite undistinguished guest arrived early at a feast and annexed the top place, and if a more distinguished person then arrived, and the man who had usurped the first place was told to step down, a most embarrassing situation resulted. If, on the other hand, a man deliberately slipped into the bottom place, and was then asked to occupy a more distinguished place, his humility gained him all the more honour.

Humility has always been one of the characteristics of great men. When Thomas Hardy was so famous that any newspaper would gladly have paid enormous sums for his work, he used sometimes to submit a poem, and always with it a stamped and addressed envelope for the return of his manuscript should it be rejected. Even in his greatness he was humble enough to think that his work might be turned down.

There are many stories and legends of the humility of Principal Cairns. He would never enter a room first. He always said, "You first, I follow." Once, as he came on to a platform, there was a great burst of applause in welcome. He stood aside and let the man after him come first and began himself to applaud. He never dreamed that the applause could possibly be for him; he thought it must be for the other man. It is only the little man who is self-important.

How can we retain our humility?

(i) We can retain it by realizing the facts. How ever much we know, we still know very little compared with the sum total of knowledge. However much we have achieved, we still have achieved very little in the end. However important we may believe ourselves to be, when death removes us or when we retire from our position, life and work will go on just the same.

(ii) We can retain it by comparison with the perfect. It is when we see or hear the expert that we realize how poor our own performance is. Many a man has decided to burn his clubs after a day at golf s Open Championship. Many a man has decided never to appear in public again after hearing a master musician perform. Many a preacher has been humbled almost to despair when he has heard a real saint of God speak. And if we set our lives beside the life of the Lord of all good life, if we see our unworthiness in comparison with the radiance of his stainless purity, pride will die and self-satisfaction will be shrivelled up.


14:12-14 Jesus said to the man who had invited him, "Whenever you give a dinner or a banquet, do not call your friends, or your brothers, or your kinsfolk or your rich neighbours, in case they invite you back again in return and you receive a repayment. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind. Then you will be happy, because they cannot repay you. You will receive your repayment at the resurrection of the righteous."

Here is a searching passage, because it demands that we should examine the motives behind all our generosity.

(i) A man may give from a sense of duty.

He dropped a penny in the plate

And meekly raised his eyes,

Glad the week's rent was duly paid

For mansions in the skies.

We may give to God and to man much in the same way as we pay our income tax--as the satisfaction of a grim duty which we cannot escape.

(ii) A man may give purely from motives of self-interest. Consciously or unconsciously he may regard his giving as an investment. He may regard each gift as an entry on the credit side of his account in the ledger of God. Such giving, so far from being generosity, is rationalized selfishness.

(iii) A man may give in order to feel superior. Such giving can be a cruel thing. It can hurt the recipient much more than a blunt refusal. When a man gives like that he stands on his little eminence and looks down. He may even with the gift throw in a short and smug lecture. It would be better not to give at all than to give merely to gratify one's own vanity and one's own desire for power. The Rabbis had a saying that the best kind of giving was when the giver did not know to whom he was giving, and when the receiver did not know from whom he was receiving.

(iv) A man may give because he cannot help it. That is the only real way to give. The law of the kingdom is this--that if a man gives to gain reward he will receive no reward; but if a man gives with no thought of reward his reward is certain. The only real giving is that which is the uncontrollable outflow of love. Once Dr Johnson cynically described gratitude as "a lively sense of favours to come." The same definition could equally apply to certain forms of giving. God gave because he so loved the world--and so must we.


14:15-24 When one of those who were sitting at table with Jesus heard this, he said, "Happy is the man who eats bread in the kingdom of God." Jesus said to him, "There was a man who made a great banquet, and who invited many people to it. At the time of the banquet he sent his servants to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, because everything is now ready.' With one accord they all began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.' Another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am on my way to try them out. Please have me excused.' Another said, 'I have married a wife, and, therefore, I cannot come.' So the servant came and told his master these things. The master of the house was enraged, and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the town and bring here the poor, and the maimed, and the blind and the lame.' The servant said, 'Sir, your orders have been carried out and there is still room.' So the master said to his servant, 'Go out to the roads and to the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you that none of these men who were invited shall taste of my banquet.'"

The Jews had a series of ever-recurring conventional pictures of what would happen when God broke into history and when the golden days of the new age arrived. One of these was the picture of the Messianic banquet. On that day God would give a great feast to his own people at which Leviathan, the sea monster, would be part of the food. It is of this banquet that the man who spoke to Jesus was thinking. When he spoke of the happiness of those who would be guests at that banquet he was thinking of Jews, and of Jews only, for the average, orthodox Jew would never have dreamed that gentiles and sinners would find a place at the feast of God. That is why Jesus spoke this parable.

In Palestine, when a man made a feast, the day was announced long beforehand and the invitations were sent out and accepted; but the hour was not announced; and when the day came and all things were ready, servants were sent out to summon the already invited guests. To accept the invitation beforehand and then to refuse it when the day came was a grave insult.

In the parable the master stands for God. The originally invited guests stand for the Jews. Throughout all their history they had looked forward to the day when God would break in; and when he did, they tragically refused his invitation. The poor people from the streets and lanes stand for the tax-gatherers and sinners who welcomed Jesus in a way in which the orthodox never did. Those gathered in from the roads and the hedges stand for the gentiles for whom there was still ample room at the feast of God. As Bengel, the great commentator, put it, "both nature and grace abhor a vacuum," and when the Jews refused God's invitation and left his table empty, the invitation went out to the gentiles.

There is one sentence in this parable which has been sadly misused. "Go out," said the master, "and compel them to come in." Long ago Augustine used that text as a justification for religious persecution. It was taken as a command to coerce people into the Christian faith. It was used as a defence of the inquisition, the thumb-screw, the rack, the threat of death and imprisonment, the campaigns against the heretics, all those things which are the shame of Christianity. Beside it we should always set another text--The love of Christ controls us. (2 Corinthians 5:14.) In the kingdom of God there is only one compulsion--the compulsion of love.

But though this parable spoke with a threat to the Jews who had refused God's invitation, and with an undreamed of glory to the sinners and the outcasts and the gentiles who had never dreamed of receiving it, there are in it truths which are forever permanent and as new as today. In the parable the invited guests made their excuses and men's excuses do not differ so very much today.

(i) The first man said that he had bought a field and was going to see it. He allowed the claims of business to usurp the claims of God. It is still possible for a man to be so immersed in this world that he has no time to worship, and even no time to pray.

(ii) The second man said that he had bought five yoke of oxen and that he was going to try them out. He let the claims of novelty usurp the claims of Christ. It often happens that when people enter into new possessions they become so taken up with them that the claims of worship and of God get crowded out. People have been known to acquire a motor car and then to say, "We used to go to church on a Sunday, but now we go off to the country for the day." It is perilously easy for a new game, a new hobby, even a new friendship, to take up even the time that should be kept for God.

(iii) The third man said, with even more finality than the others, "I have married a wife, and I cannot come." One of the wonderful merciful laws of the Old Testament laid it down, "when a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, to be happy with his wife whom he has taken" (Deuteronomy 24:5). No doubt that very law was in this man's mind. It is one of the tragedies of life when good things crowd out the claims of God. There is no lovelier thing than a home and yet a home was never meant to be used selfishly. They live best together who live with God; they serve each other best who also serve their fellow-men; the atmosphere of a home is most lovely when those who dwell within it remember that they are also members of the great family and household of God.

The Banquet Of The Kingdom

Before we leave this passage we must note that Luke 14:1-24 have all to do with feasts and banquets. It is most significant that Jesus thought of his kingdom and his service in terms of a feast. The symbol of the kingdom was the happiest thing that human life could know. Surely this is the final condemnation of the Christian who is afraid to enjoy himself.

There has always been a type of Christianity which has taken all the colour out of life. Julian spoke of those pale-faced, flat-breasted Christians for whom the sun shone and they never saw it. Swinburne slandered Christ by saying,

"Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilaean,

The world has grown gray from thy breath."

Ruskin, who was brought up in a rigid and a narrow home, tells how he was given a jumping-jack as a present and a pious aunt took it away from him, saying that toys were no things for a Christian child. Even so great and sane and healthy a scholar as A. B. Bruce said that you could not conceive of the child Jesus playing games when he was a boy, or smiling when he was a man. W. M. Macgregor, in his Warrack Lectures, speaks with the scorn of which he was such a master, about one of John Wesley's few mistakes. He founded a school at Kingswood, near Bristol. He laid it down that no games were to be allowed in the school or in the grounds, because "he who plays when he is a child will play when he is a man." There were no holidays. The children rose at 4 a.m. and spent the first hour of the day in prayer and meditation, and on Friday they fasted until three in the afternoon. W. M. Macgregor characterizes the whole set up as "nature-defying foolishness."

We must always remember that Jesus thought of the kingdom in terms of a feast. A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms. Locke, the great philosopher, defined laughter as "a sudden glory." There is no healthy pleasure which is forbidden to a Christian man, for a Christian is like a man who is forever at a wedding feast.

ON COUNTING THE COST (Luke 14:25-33)

14:25-33 Great crowds were on the way with Jesus. He turned and said to them, "If any man comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you, if he wishes to build a tower, does not first sit down and reckon up the expense, to see whether he has enough to finish it? This he does lest, when he has laid the foundation and is unable to complete the work, all who see him begin to mock him, saying. 'This man began to build and was unable to finish the job.' Or, what king when he is going to engage battle with another king, does not first sit down and take counsel, whether he is able with ten thousand men to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he finds he cannot, while he is still distant, he sends an embassy and asks for terms of peace. So, therefore, everyone of you who does not bid farewell to all his possessions cannot be my disciple."

When Jesus said this he was on the road to Jerusalem. He knew that he was on his way to the cross; the crowds who were with him thought that he was on his way to an empire. That is why he spoke to them like this. In the most vivid way possible he told them that the man who followed him was not on the way to worldly power and glory, but must be ready for a loyalty which would sacrifice the dearest things in life and for a suffering which would be like the agony of a man upon a cross.

We must not take his words with cold and unimaginative literalness. Eastern language is always as vivid as the human mind can make it. When Jesus tells us to hate our nearest and dearest, he does not mean that literally. He means that no love in life can compare with the love we must bear to him.

There are two suggestive truths within this passage.

(i) It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp-follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one's weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, "So and so tells me that he was one of year students." The teacher answered devastatingly, "He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students." It is one of the supreme handicaps of the church that in it there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.

(ii) It is a Christian's first duty to count the cost of following Christ. The tower which the man was going to build was probably a vineyard tower. Vineyards were often equipped with towers from which watch was kept against thieves who might steal the harvest. An unfinished building is always a humiliating thing. In Scotland, we may, for instance, think of that weird structure called "M'Caig's Folly" which stands behind Oban.

In every sphere of life a man is called upon to count the cost. In the introduction to the marriage ceremony according to the forms of the Church of Scotland, the minister says, "Marriage is not to be entered upon lightly or unadvisedly, but thoughtfully, reverently, and in the fear of God." A man and woman must count the cost.

It is so with the Christian way. But if a man is daunted by the high demands of Christ let him remember that he is not left to fulfil them alone. He who called him to the steep road will walk with him every step of the way and be there at the end to meet him.

THE INSIPID SALT (Luke 14:34-35)

14:34-35 Jesus said, "Salt is a fine thing; but if salt has become insipid, by what means shall its taste be restored? It is fit neither for the land nor the dunghill. Men throw it out. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear."

Just sometimes Jesus speaks with a threat in his voice. When a person is always carping and criticizing and complaining, his irritable anger ceases to have any significance or any effect. But when someone whose accent is the accent of love suddenly speaks with a threat we are bound to listen. What Jesus is saying is this--when a thing loses its essential quality and fails to perform its essential duty, it is fit for nothing but to be thrown away.

Jesus uses salt as a symbol of the Christian life. What, then, are its essential qualities? In Palestine it had three characteristic uses.

(i) Salt was used as a preservative. It is the earliest of all preservatives. The Greeks used to say that salt could put a new soul into dead things. Without salt a thing putrefied and went bad; with it its freshness was preserved. That means that true Christianity must act as a preservative against the corruption of the world. The individual Christian must be the conscience of his fellows; and the church the conscience of the nation. The Christian must be such that in his presence no doubtful language will be used, no questionable stories told, no dishonourable action suggested. He must be like a cleansing antiseptic in the circle in which he moves. The church must fearlessly speak against all evils and support all good causes. She must never hold her peace through fear or favour of men.

(ii) Salt was used as a flavouring. Food, without salt, can be revoltingly insipid. The Christian, then, must be the man who brings flavour into life. The Christianity which acts like a shadow of gloom and a wet blanket is no true Christianity. The Christian is the man who, by his courage, his hope, his cheerfulness and his kindness brings a new flavour into life.

(iii) Salt was used on the land. It was used to make it easier for all good things to grow. The Christian must be such that he makes it easier for people to be good and harder to be bad. We all know people in whose company there are certain things we would not and could not do; and equally we all know people in whose company we might well stoop to things which by ourselves we would not do. There are fine souls in whose company it is easier to be brave and cheerful and good. The Christian must carry with him a breath of heaven in which the fine things flourish and the evil things shrivel up.

That is the function of the Christian; if he fails in his function there is no good reason why he should exist at all; and we have already seen that in the economy of God uselessness invites disaster. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Luke 14:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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