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Our gospel for this morning brings us into the house of a man who was a “ruler of the Pharisees.” It’s Friday, the sun has set, and the Sabbath has officially begun.
“One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, THEY WERE WATCHING HIM CAREFULLY.”
And, as it turns out, Jesus was watching them carefully as well.
I. Man with ‘dropsy.’
Just as this dinner is getting underway, there’s an interruption. A man who is an ‘uninvited guest’ is somehow present. “And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.”
He was there to be healed. But it’s the Sabbath Day. And to heal this man on the Sabbath Day would be a violation of God’s commandment, “on this day you shall do no work.” At least that’s the way that the Lawyers and the Pharisees interpreted the Law.
WWJD. What would Jesus do? Would he tell the man to come back later, and save His reputation with His guests? Or would He heal the man and jeopardize His reputation? That is, would He humble Himself. Would He make Himself nothing for the sake of this man with dropsy?
Luke writes, “And Jesus RESPONDED to the lawyers and Pharisees saying, “is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? But they remained silent.” They refused to answer Him. It was not they who were on trial here. It was Jesus, the One who will “come again to judge between the living and the dead,” who was on trial.
“Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. That simple. Not too much work for Jesus really.
“And he said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”
And to that, they not only ‘remained silent.’ “They could not reply to these things.”
“THESE THINGS” being the fact that Jesus actually healed this man of his disease just by “touching” him. What can you say to that?
“THESE THINGS” being that they would most certainly work as much as they had to work on the Sabbath day to save a son or even an ox. Was it that they did not think as much of this man with ‘dropsy’ as they did of their son, or of their ox?
Well, actually they could have replied. They could have replied, “We repent in dust and ashes.” “You have shown us our sin and our sinful pride and we are sorry.” “You have shown what is good and right salutary and we will amend our sinful ways.” But, “they could not reply to these things” because to do so would have jeopardized their reputation among the others – and that’s what they were most concerned with.
But Jesus loved this man just as much as He loved the “ruler of the Pharisees” and all the other guests at this dinner. What can you say to that? “They could not reply to these things.”
II. Parable to Guests.
So, while they are all sitting there, tongue tied, Jesus directs His attention to the other guests that the ‘ruler of the Pharisees’ has invited to his home for this little dinner party.
“Now he told this parable TO THOSE WHO WERE INVITED, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor…”
What had Jesus seen? As each guest entered the house, he would have been met by a servant who was in charge of washing feet. A smelly job, as you can imagine. And then as each guest was washed, maybe even before servant had a chance to dry the feet, they would be scampering off to claim a ‘seat of honor’ for themselves.
The host of the dinner would usually have the ‘place of honor’ at the dinner table, usually in the middle. The closer your seat was to the host, the greater the ‘place of honor.’
Just think of the Passover meal in the Upper Room on the ‘night when He was betrayed.’ Jesus is the host of this meal. Peter is seated on his left and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is seated at his right. They had the “places of honor.” At that banquet however, Jesus not only held the “place of honor,” but He was also the servant who washed the guest’s feet. He “humbled himself.”
Here at this dinner, in stark contrast, the guests “exalted themselves.” What a contrast.
Jesus said, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person, and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.
Anyone who has ever been to a wedding reception can get the point just fine. Just imagine if, instead of taking his place at one of the many tables prepared for the guests, grabbed one of the seats at the head table, the “places of honor” where the bride and groom and the wedding party are to sit. How embarrassing when the host has to tell him to ‘take a hike.’
But when you are invited, sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”
This is certainly about more than just proper ‘social etiquette.’ Which is not to say that this isn’t practical wisdom for everyday life. It’s always better to be honored by being invited to move up than embarrassed by being asked to move down. But you can get that from Emily Post. You don’t need the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, just to teach us proper ‘social etiquette.’
This is why St. Luke calls this a ‘parable.’ There’s something here that lies under the surface. There’s a nut in this shell. This is not really about ‘proper etiquette’ for dinners and banquets. This is about ‘proper etiquette’ in the Kingdom of God where the rule is, “whoever humbles himself will be exalted and whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”
This is what we want to explore together this morning. What does this mean?
The disciples came to Jesus with a question. “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” And He took a little child and sat him on His lap and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this little child is greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 18:4). What does this mean?
The word, “HUMBLE” has the same root as the word “HUMILITY.”
What does St. Paul mean when, writing to the Ephesians he says, “I… urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, WITH ALL HUMILITY…” (Eph.4:2). And to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, BUT IN HUMILITY count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3).
What does St. Peter mean when he writes to the church saying, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, WITH HUMILITY TOWARD ONE ANOTHER, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the HUMBLE .” (1 Peter 5:5).
What is the ‘nut in this shell?’
In letter #14 of his “Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape instruct his nephew Wormwood to fill the Christian’s head with the false idea of what true ‘humility’ really is. He coaches Wormwood to fill the Christian’s head with the idea that true ‘humility’ consists of THINKING LESS OF YOURSELF than others. If the Christian wants to ‘humble himself,’ he must work at having a ‘LOW OPINION’ of himself.
So that in her quest of being ‘humble,’ a ‘pretty woman’ will try to make herself believe that she’s really ugly. And a ‘clever man’ will try to convince himself that he’s really a fool.
Same goes with the work that we do. The devil wants us to think that true ‘humility’ is all about having a ‘low opinion’ of the work that we do; that no matter what we do and how valuable it might actually be, if we acknowledge that’s it’s a good work or ‘important,’ then we’re not being ‘humble.’
Now the real point here, and the real error here, is not that we may ‘overestimate’ or ‘underestimate’ our beauty or our cleverness or the value of our work. The real problem here is that in our quest for ‘humility’ and ‘humbleness,’ we get all caught up in thinking about OURSELVES AND HOW WE COMPARE TO OTHERS.
This is just another way to keep us turned-in on ourselves, which is what sin has done to us. It’s really just a sneaky way of fostering a sense of sinful “pride” in ourselves, a kind of ‘reverse pride,’ but it’s still “pride” because it’s all about me, and how I compare to others.
Screwtape goes on to recommend that, “since what they are trying to believe about themselves may, in some cases be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves…”
The summary of the 2nd Table of the Law is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not, “love your neighbor and hate yourself.”
True ‘humility’ is all about forgetting about yourself. It’s about being free of concern for yourself, especially in comparison to others, so that we’re free to think and do what is good for others, regardless of what it might mean for me
To ‘humble yourself’ means that you put yourself aside so that you’re free to see the beauty in others, without being distracted about how you look by comparison. It means that you may do the best job and produce a truly wonderful work, but you’d be just as happy as if someone else had done it, just because it’s ‘good,’ it’s useful or helpful or it gives joy to others, yourself included. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So, where does this true ‘humility’ come from? It’s certainly not natural.
It comes from Jesus, who lives in us and in whom we live.
“Though he was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but EMPTIED HIMSELF, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, HE HUMBLED HIMSELF by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8).
Jesus didn’t try to convince Himself that He was someone less than Who He really is. He didn’t try to tell Himself that the work that He came into this world to do was really ‘not much,’ ‘not really that important.’
No, in doing what He came to do, He ‘EMPTIED HIMSELF’ of Himself. He didn’t think of the rejection that He would face, either by His fellow man or by God the Father. He only thought about you. He did it in perfect LOVE for you.
He ‘HUMBLED HIMSELF.’ It’s not that He was anything less than He has always been; the eternal Son, begotten by the Father, in Whom the Godhead dwells bodily. But He is not interested in establishing His reputation among men and women for His own sake. He is only interested in establishing the reputation of sinful men and women with His Father in heaven. He is only interested in WHAT IS GOOD for you.
So, because Jesus Christ “HUMBLED HIMSELF” for you, you are EXALTED, before others and before God.
Now, there is absolutely no need to EXALT YOURSELF, either before others or before God. In fact, to do so is a sign of unbelief.
Now, there is absolutely no reason for us to HUMBLE OTHERS to make ourselves look better, or even to SERVE others so that we might be recognized, either by God or by others. In fact, to do so is a sign that we do not believe that in our baptism we are already beautiful and precious in the sight of God and His dearly beloved child.
Jesus’ rightful place is the ‘seat of honor’ at the right hand of God the Father. But He took the lowest seat, the ‘seat of dishonor,’ the seat of ‘humiliation and shame.’ He took the seat that was reserved for Him on a cross. And God “exalted” Him. God raised Him up.
True “humility” is not something that we can produce within ourselves. People who try to be ‘humble’ and ‘lowly’ usually end up being just the opposite. It’s a ‘false humility’ and sometimes it’s pretty obvious and embarrassing.
True “humility” comes from fixing your eyes on Jesus. It is He who exalts us by forgiving our sins and raising us from the dead and presenting us to His Father in heaven as His friends. He goes to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house, at the heavenly banquet table, and every place is a ‘place of honor.’
He has prepared this banquet here, this morning, this Sabbath day. He invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And every place is a place of honor, if only because it is Jesus who has invited you to come, and Jesus who is the host, and Jesus who is Jesus who is the servant, and Jesus who is the food.