Text: Luke 14:1-14
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ:
Many of us begin our meals by praying: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blest.” We want our food to be blessed, of course. But what about that first part. Do we really want Jesus to join us? I mean, think about what Jesus might say or do. Think about what happened during the meal in the text just read.
Jesus went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. It was a Sabbath day—the day when people were supposed to rest. To the Pharisees, that meant no work at all.
A short time before this, as documented in chapter 13, Jesus had riled up a local Synagogue leader by healing a woman who suffered from a bent back on the Sabbath. In his defense, Jesus had said simply: “Ought not this woman be loosed from this bond?” The crowds agreed. They understood the greater good, and perhaps also recalled his famous words: “the Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath.”
Now, as people are enjoying their dinner at the home of this Pharisee, Jesus boldly asks: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Leave it to Jesus to keep pushing the issue.
Jesus’ question draws an awkward silence. “Why does this guy have to spoil our nice lunch?” they probably thought. But Jesus’ question was important. It was not just a matter of some seemingly insignificant doctrine. In fact, right there at that table with them was someone else needing healing—a man who was suffering from dropsy, which we now call edema, or the retention of water.
Should Jesus heal the man? Or should he observe the Sabbath in the way of the Pharisees?
The choice for Jesus was obvious. He healed.
We, too, make choices in our Sabbath observance. Unfortunately, some people’s choice is to simply discard it. Some of these even justify their choice by referencing what Jesus said and did.
But we are not to discard the Sabbath. Sabbath observance is the means whereby we gain the rest we need—especially the rest that is given through hearing God’s Word.
Much more could be said about Sabbath observance. Indeed, Jesus addresses the topic frequently in his teaching. Today’s text, however, quickly moves on… and we will too.
As the dinner with the Pharisees continues, Jesus next notes how the invited guests were choosing to sit in the places of honor. Jesus suggests a different way, saying: “When you are invited by someone to a feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited and you have to give up your seat in shame.”
Jesus stands on solid ground with his suggestion. His words paraphrase one of the proverbs of the Old Testament. We heard it in our first reading today. It says: “Do not put yourself forward in the presence of the king, or stand in the place of the great.”
We hear this proverb, and the teaching of Jesus, and we recognize its wisdom—at least when we give it some thought. Yes, we should know our place. And we should observe proper manners. If we don’t, we might end up being embarrassed.
That being said, we don’t always follow this wisdom—especially when caught up in the moment.
Every time I hear this teaching from Jesus, I painfully recall a time when I didn’t follow it. A number of years ago, soon after our former Synodical President, Gerald Kieschnick, was elected to office, we pastors of the Southeastern District decided to invite him to a dinner in our area. Our leadership decided to hold the dinner here at St. Paul’s, because it’s a good location, and because Dr. Kieschnick had gone to school many years ago with one of our members, Susan Hecht, so we had an in.
As the pastors and spouses sat down for dinner, I observed that there was a special table up front for the President and our District leaders. I reasoned that because I was the host pastor here, I deserved to be at that table too. So, I made space at the end, for both my wife and me.
It was awkward enough being an appendage on the end of the table, but soon I made it more awkward by saying something embarrassing. You know how sometimes you try to be clever, but you try too hard and instead of being clever what you say is just weird? Maybe this doesn’t happen to you. It happened to me.
I’ll save my wife further embarrassment and refrain from telling you what I said. Just know that I had today’s teaching from Jesus reinforced for me, in a very real way. I sat in a place of honor when I shouldn’t have – and ended up learning my lesson.
We noted that this teaching of Jesus and the proverb promotes good manners. Wisdom too. But there’s more going on here as well. Jesus is promoting a pattern… a pattern of acting humbly. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus’ teaching goes beyond what is wise. It speaks to a way of life that is based on faith. It speaks to what is Godly. It speaks to a “more excellent way” … to use the words of St. Paul. Jesus teaches the way of charity; the way of love.
If there’s any doubt that Jesus is teaching us something different, and something better, his next parable removes all doubt. Here the same illustration of a banquet is used, but this time we are the inviters, not the invited. And in our inviting, we’re asked to do something beyond good manners and wisdom. We’re asked to do something quite radical. We’re asked to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind… meaning, first of all, those who cannot repay us, but also those who will not further our social status, and those we do not naturally see as “our kind of people.” The writer of Hebrews says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” That’s the kind of inviting we are called to do.
This is a radical humility. A radical love. Who can do it?
Well, we can… as we live by faith. We can live the way of humility. We can love radically as called by our God.
But we will have a hard time with it, and we won’t always do it very well. Sometimes we will simply wimp out, because our faith is weak. Sometimes we’ll very deliberately choose the other path, because we’re selfish, or because we’ve convinced ourselves to follow the way of the world and not the way of Christ.
Thankfully, Jesus has acted to help us weak and selfish people. He works to strengthen our faith and encourage us in the right path. He teaches us. He admonishes us.
Even more, Jesus forgives us. And his forgiveness is the forgiveness of God. His forgiveness places us back upon the path of life eternal. His forgiveness earns for us a new and fresh start every day.
Jesus earned this forgiveness for us when he went to the cross. He himself took the lowest place—the place of humility and shame. He humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
“Go and sit in the lowest place,” Jesus once taught. And then he did it himself. Jesus doesn’t just preach. He practices what he preaches. For us.
Today’s text closes with a promise—a beautiful promise of Jesus, uniquely stated in this text. Jesus tells us that when we humble ourselves, we will be repaid “at the resurrection of the just.”
In the book of Acts, chapter 24, St. Paul speaks of the “resurrection of the just and the unjust.” His words witness to the fact that all people will be called to account one day. Even the unjust will be resurrected—but then sentenced, to banishment from God’s presence, as a consequence of their sin.
The just, however, will live with joy in God’s presence. They will feast at the heavenly banquet and sit at table with the king—the Lord Jesus himself. They will hear the words of their Lord: “friend, move up higher.”
Those who humble themselves in repentance and faith are the just.
They have been declared just, by their Savior Jesus, who died for their sin.
You and I, through our repentance and faith, are among that number, having been joined to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus in our Baptism. We journey with him, to life everlasting.
Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
In this life, the way of humility won’t always succeed—at least in the way we usually define success. Our humble ways won’t always be appreciated. We won’t always see good prevail. We might humbly serve and still be called a glory hound. (That was a little inside joke for my friends!) In this life, sometimes those who exalt themselves will be exalted even more, and those who humble themselves will just remain humble.
But God sees. God sees our acts of faith. God sees our acts of humility. And we will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. That’s the promise. We who are humbled by this life daily will experience the exalted joys of heaven in the life to come. And knowing this, can we not summon up a little more joy in this life too? Of course.
So, in what ways do you need to humble yourself? What kind of humble acts can you do for others? These are the questions we’re called to ask ourselves today. God wants us to grow in wisdom. God wants us to grow in faith. God want us to grow in love. And to help us, God walks with us—encouraging and forgiving us.
Come, Lord Jesus. Be our guest. Let your gifts… your many gifts… to us be blessed. Amen.