There is this saying out there: The Lord helps those who help themselves. Sometimes this is said sardonically. It becomes an indictment against God’s involvement in one’s life. It is the prayer of Jimmy Stewart’s character in Shenandoah: “Thank you Lord for this food, even though we tilled the ground; we planted the seed; we harvested; we did all the work.” Not a word for word account, but it captures the general essence of the prayer. Or “the Lord helps those who help themselves” may be a ward against lazy Christians; an encouragement to hinder a Lazyboy faith. God will only help you if you put in the effort. And if we are talking about praying that God will help you get a job, then I agree, you should get out there and fill out applications and put effort into the prayer. If you ask God to bless your crop, for goodness sake, get out there and work the ground; plant the seeds; kill yourself some weeds; and harvest. But what about salvation? Jesus swooped in and said things like “it is the sick who need a physician,” and “I came to seek and save the lost.” This doesn’t sound like “the Lord helps those who help themselves” to me.
Luke 14:12-14 is a continuation of the banquet theme. Jesus had been invited to a dinner and he had already given them instructions about seeking the place of honor. In our passage the message is to the inviter. When you give or do a luncheon or dinner . . . The word “give” has the idea of “do, make, create,” and the emphasis may be that a banquet is an event that you work; you do. It is more than giving. It is a lot of effort. The Jewish people, as well as the Romans, had two main meals; one in the late morning and one in the late afternoon. The second was the most important of the two and the most likely target meal of a banquet. Although the emphasis here may be the daily meals. So, whatever time of day you invite others to dine with you, do not invite your friends, or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors. What? Are you saying that having a meal with family and friends is wrong Jesus? There was a common way of teaching in Jesus day; an understood emphasis. You could throw a “merely” in at the beginning of the statement and that would hit Jesus point. Don’t merely invite this group of people. This group is most likely going to reciprocate and invite you to a meal they are working. And if you merely invite those who are likely to invite you, are you working a meal so that you can be repaid in kind?
Jesus gives instructions of whom you should invite to a banquet. The word used here replaces the two words for daily meals in verse 12. It refers to a banquet or feast. It is not a daily event; it is a special occasion or a special guests event. In effect, Jesus is saying you work harder for these guests. And who are they? The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. This is the same group Jesus mentions in his parable of the dinner guests (verse 21). The parable is about who God invites to the great feast. So, one of the reasons we are instructed to invite this group is because they are who God invites. Interestingly, the crippled, lame and blind descendants of Aaron were not allowed to minister in the temple (cf. Leviticus 21:17-23). The passage makes it very clear that these men were allowed to eat the priests’ portion. Through the years, people began to think the commandment was about who was excluded from the kingdom. They began to view these physical handicaps as punishments from God. And the poor? A good pious Pharisee would give to the poor because it was commanded, but his view of the poor would have been that the blessings of God – the favor of God – were being withheld from them and for a good reason. For the religious elite this is about more than people who you would never consider inviting to a banquet; this is about who God would never invite; this is about avoiding those cursed by God.
And Jesus wraps this section up by stating that if you invite these people who do not possess the means of working a feast for you, you will be blessed. You will be happy. You will be the recipient of divine favor. And this blessing comes from the very fact that they cannot reciprocate. Instead, you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous. You are blessed now and you will be repaid – invited to the great feast worked by God – when the resurrection happens. Well, that’s alright then.
God helps those who are not able to help themselves; those who can in no way pay for the favor of being invited. You know, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. We want to think this does not apply to us, but compared to God we are all of us poor, crippled, lame, and blind. God invites us even though we can not work up any kind of return. So, be like God and help those who cannot help themselves. Peace.