The Curmudgeon


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Luke 14 vii-xxiv

While dining at the house of a leading Pharisee, Jesus states that during formal occasions one should take the humblest place, on the eminently worldly grounds that it is better to court promotion from a lower position than to risk demotion from a higher. He then relates a parable about a rich man who holds a banquet, but finds that those he has invited are too preoccupied with worldly matters to attend. The rich man eventually orders his servant to compel the destitute to attend instead.

In the kingdom of heaven, modesty is not a virtue but a tactic to achieve greater honour. Jesus advises His listeners to throw parties for the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, because such people cannot return the favour and therefore God will provide the reward. In other words, one should not show generosity to one's family, one's friends or one's social equals, because such inconsiderate behaviour leaves no room for God to show off His power. According to Jesus, we should humble ourselves in order to be exalted, as befits dedicated sycophants who flatter a whimsical tyrant in the hope of advancement, or at least of avoiding arbitrary punishment.

The parable of the banquet is a cynical joke at the expense of those who imagine that Jesus and His Father will reward them with anything better than slavery and degradation. Not satisfied with inviting those who cannot reward him, the rich man in the parable invites those who cannot even attend: everyone has some reason for staying away. Even when the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind have been asked, there is still so much room to spare that the host orders his slave to force people to come.

Why should a rich man encounter such difficulties in getting people to attend his banquet? As soon as we recognise that the rich man represents the jealous, arbitrary and murderous Father, the answer becomes clear. The guests make their excuses because they know how the banquet will taste: how poisonous to the mind, how disgusting to the senses, how repulsive to the morals it will be. So awful is the menu that even the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind have heard of its reputation and stay away in humiliating numbers. At last, like every tyrant, the spurned host is reduced to ordering people to put up with him.


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