These verses seem to be three distinct units -- Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, he tells a parable in response to those who seat themselves in honor at a feast, and he goes on to tell another parable about a banquet. All three of these, however, are united by one basic idea -- there is a stark contrast between living under God's rule and recognizing him as sovereign, on the one hand, and living according to our own power games and desires for advancement on the other. Jesus calls out the authorities who justify preserving their own property on the Sabbath but say it's wrong to heal a man afflicted with dropsy, an abnormal buildup of fluids in the body, what more commonly today would be called "edema." Jesus graciously heals the man and ironically confronts his critics with the idea that this man is at least as valuable as an ox. Point for Jesus.
Then he calls out the social grasping of his audience, those who (like we have all done at one time or another) seek to advance themselves in social situations -- wanting to be that special friend, guest, etc., and positioning ourselves to be "honored" in this way. It really comes back to measuring ourselves according to what others think of us. Jesus says in effect (as he will demonstrate vividly to his disciples in a few short days, see the beginning of John 13) that if you know who you are in God's love, you don't have to worry about your social standing. If you are the beloved son or daughter of God, what does it matter whether you sit at the head table or back in the kitchen? It doesn't. Yet so often we posture and worry about where we stand with people, buying into the shame-based systems that kept the dropsy-afflicted man from being healed on the Sabbath.
What Jesus is doing here is redefining the power and application of God's love, and he goes on to state this theme even more radically in the third part of this section. His host has gained some basic idea of Jesus' "kingdom of God" and remarks how glorious it will be. Jesus contradicts him, saying instead: The kingdom of God is already in evidence around you -- here I am, the promised king -- and yet time after time people are rejecting me, rejecting my rule. Time after time people choose to live according to the systems and values of their shame-based human rules rather than knowing who they are as beloved sons and daughters of God. Like the seeds choked out in the soil that was crowded with thorns, they fill their lives with priorities, relationships, and concerns that are all about them and their own advancement rather than about Jesus' authority and kingship. So, Jesus says, the king -- in this case himself -- will turn away from those who reject him and pour out his favor, his love, his grace, his welcome on those who seem completely undeserving. In effect, Jesus is looking ahead to the scandalous invitation into God's love that will be expressed through the lives of his followers from his resurrection until the present.
And yet so often, those who should know Jesus' love and authority best create systems and hierarchies that protect ourselves and build walls to keep out those we don't like. Over and over again we see Jesus turning away from those who build their own kingdoms and turning to those who are pleased to know themselves as beloved sons and daughters of a gracious God -- not because they've met some standard, but because of who God is.