What Does Luke 14:12-14 Mean?
"Then He also said to him who invited Him, 'When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just." Luke 14:12-14.
Like any other passage in the Bible, this one cannot be understood or applied if contextual information is ignored. The scene is Jesus in the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and challenged the religious experts regarding their enforcement of the Sabbath (based on human tradition). Jesus observed how the guests "chose the best places," and in response to this practice He "told a parable" to them. The point of the parable was: "For whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted," (see all of this in Luke 14:1-11).
Beginning with verse 12, be sure you don't miss who Jesus was speaking to! "Then He also said to him who invited Him." This took place in "the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees." Jesus observed the guests and their motives (see verse 7). He also witnessed the host and his motives. Luke gives us this information. It is apparently useful and necessary in understanding the teaching and making any application. When we read the opening of the paragraph, "when you give a dinner or a supper," we ought to understand that as Jesus speaking to the Pharisee who hosted the feast. This is what Jesus said "to him who invited Him."
Jesus admonished the host: "Do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor your rich neighbors." If we had only this prohibition, we might be tempted to conclude that nobody should ever entertain or feed their friends or relatives, nor share their table with someone classified as "rich neighbors" (economic discrimination). This conclusion would come in conflict with other teachings we know to require that we afford care and hospitality toward others, without discrimination (Rom. 12:20; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 2:17, etc.).
Hence, this is not just a stand-alone prohibition! It has context. Remember, Jesus has observed the motives of both host and guests; the teaching springs from this scene! Apparently, the host invited guests to this feast with selfish expectation of his own future social advantage. That's the meaning of the phrase, "lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid."
I believe Jesus spoke this saying to an audience who needed to be admonished about their motives (both in hosting and attending a feast). The guests were guilty of choosing the best places to exalt themselves (read vss. 7-11). The host was guilty of inviting people, with selfish expectation of his own future social advantage. He invited people expecting future favor ("lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid").
To stress the lesson this host needed to learn, Jesus stating the opposite; the greater motive: "But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just." Jesus is not forbidding us to feed or entertain our relatives, friends or neighbors; nor is He recommending social/economic discrimination. He is stating the case against the practice of hospitality which finds its purpose in expectation of personal favor (hoping your guests will return the favor; reciprocating).
W. Clarkson well states the matter in Pulpit Commentary: "THE CORRECTION OF A COMMON FAULT. Jesus Christ did not, indeed, intend to condemn outright all family or social gatherings of a festive character. He had already sanctioned these by his own presence. The idiomatic language, 'do not, but,' signifies, not a positive interdiction of the one thing, but the superiority of the other."
But may the lesson not be lost on us! To seek the best places; to exalt ourselves; to offer hospitality and blessing to others, with the motive and anticipation of our own social or financial gain is short-sighted and misses the purity of the generosity of the Lord. Our good works should, every one, be motivated by the greater, eternal reward. There is recompense far higher than the earthly benefits of throwing a party for our own temporal advantage.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 11.3, March, 2004