Trinity 17 – September 17th and 18th, 2016 – Luke 14:1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Of all the healings that our Lord does, this one seems the most disturbing. It’s bothersome. There is just something about this healing that doesn’t sit right here. With the other that healings we see in Scripture, there’s rejoicing and merriment. They are in a setting of love and devotion – a Centurion pleading for his servant, a mother for her child, friends carrying a paralyzed man. And there’s even the rejoicing of the healed, the shouts of praise to God that go up even when He asks them to be quiet. But not with this healing. No, this one is different, it feels off. Listen again.
One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him closely. I hope you can hear the tension in that verse. So there Jesus is, and He has been invited over to some important fellow’s house for the Sabbath meal – a meal that was to be a time of rest, of relaxation, of pondering God’s Word and God’s love for us. It should be Jesus in His element – He loves eating with people and teaching and preaching to them, proclaiming the love of God to them. He’ll even make the food if there’s no food there – that’s how much Jesus loves these teaching dinners. But that’s not what we see today. No, instead of people like Zaccheus or Mary hanging on His Words and paying attention to Him, we have the Pharisees watching Him closely. Observing Him. Looking to judge and critique and find something to complain about. Instead of eating with sinners who wish to see their Savior, Jesus is eating with the smug and self-righteous who want to find fault with Him. That would have to be slightly awkward to say the least.
And it gets more so. “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” And suddenly, there’s a sick man there, someone with a horrible, swelling disease. That “and behold” is Luke’s way of laying this on thick. There is no reason for this man to be there – he doesn’t belong. The Pharisees would never dine with his kind – it’s like walking into the Country Club and seeing a dirty, smelly bum. He doesn’t belong… but then, there he is. And note, Jesus doesn’t address the man first. Instead we hear, “And Jesus responded to the Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’” I know what you Pharisees are doing – you are just using this poor man and his misery to set a trap for Me. You’ll complain no matter what. If I heal, I break Sabbath; if I do nothing, what a pathetic, lousy healer I am. Think about how sick and twisted this is – people are setting a trap to complain about Jesus using a sick and suffering man as the bait. And Jesus calls the Pharisees on it – puts the ball into their court. So, Pharisees, you think you should sit in judgment of Me, you think you should tell Me what to do – alright, do it. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? “But they remained silent.” They can’t say anything in response to Jesus. Their ham-fisted ploy has been exposed, and now they are in a no win situation.
Now, a confession. Whenever I read this text, I get really, really annoyed with the Pharisees, and I want Jesus to just lambaste them here – lay into them. Read them the riot act and peel the paint off of them. And that's a problem. See, just as the Pharisees were watching Jesus closely to complain about him, the temptation for me is to watch the Pharisees closely to complain about them. And then I can feel smug and secure because, I’m better than these wicked Pharisees. *I* would never do something like that – while I’m doing the exact same thing in my mind that they did. And I doubt I am alone in this. Now, maybe not everyone here gets agitated with folks in the Bible, but let me ask. How many of you spent some time this week looking at your neighbor with a critical eye – not to help them, not to care for them, but to be ready to complain, to pounce, to tear down, to destroy? The temptation for us is to fall into the rat race, to go all dog eat dog. Maybe it’s a co-worker who makes life harder for us, a neighbor who annoys us, that family member who’s a bit of a black sheep and an embarrassment. Whomever – there is that temptation to watch through a sneer and to look down upon them and just wait with baited breath for them to get their comeuppance.
And so back to the text, where Jesus turns around and just levels the Pharisees, right? Goes on a long spiel about how terrible they are! No. “Then He took him and healed him and sent him away.” The very first thing Jesus does is tend to that poor man with dropsy. You are hurt, you are in pain, you don’t even want to be here. Be healed. Go home. See your family and rejoice. Jesus’ first thought is compassion. But then, surely, He’ll turn and lay into the Pharisees and read them the riot act now! No. “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?’” How gentle. There’s no recrimination. Jesus doesn’t even mention their plotting and planning, their cruelty. He ignores that – and instead explains His actions. Fellas, you know that in an emergency, you act on the Sabbath. You rescue, you care for people. Now, if you will do that, how can God not care for His people, for those who are hurting? Yes, I will rescue people. That is how God shows love. Even as they plot against Him, even as they conspire to do Him harm, Christ Jesus points to His love for these Pharisees. “And they could not reply to these things.” And their plotting stops. It’s cut off in its tracks.
You realize this is the depiction of how Christ treats you? Consider. When you are deep in your sins, when you are feeling the aches and pains of guilt and remorse or swollen with pride – Jesus heals you. He forgives you. Doesn’t make a big deal of it – first things first, you are forgiven, now go your way. Head back to your home, rejoice, delight in forgiveness. Or even when there are those times where you are going stubbornly astray, when you are acting like the Pharisees, where you are doing that familiar, self-justifying sin that you do repeatedly, what does Christ do? He doesn’t seek to lambaste you – no, He will once again give yo His own love and His own mercy. He is gentle and lowly, and full of love.
Our text continues with Jesus demonstrating more love. “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor…” Here’s the set up. Yes, Jesus is going to comment on what the Pharisees are doing, but did you hear the difference? The Pharisees, they were watching Him closely, looking for flaws and faults whereby to criticize him. Jesus, He just notices something. He’s there, but something just stands out, and then he’ll bring it to their attention for their own good. Do you get the difference there, how much more gentle Christ is? And so Jesus speaks. “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. But when you are invited, go and 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.” So what – does Jesus suddenly turn into Miss Manners or Dear Abby? Is this just practical advice or party tips time? No, Jesus is making a point, and a familiar one. Do not seek your own glory, don’t elevate yourselves, avoid the temptation of pride. Jesus isn’t saying anything new – He had first had it spoken long ago in His Word through Solomon in Proverbs. No, Christ sees their actions, and he warns them against pride, because pride does bad things to you. It makes you focused on elevating yourself, stepping over and upon your neighbors, rather than being a servant who shows love and care. It makes you forget the lessons and truths that you learned from the Scriptures.
And Jesus ties this up with a nice little bow – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exulted.” So what, is Jesus just going to end with a moral platitude, some finger wagging? No, not our Lord, full of compassion. He teaches with patience and gentleness. He reminds us that all of us, all sinful folks exalt themselves, strive to elevate themselves. We’ll even hear this verse and say, “Oh, well, maybe if I just act lowly, I’ll get exulted”. No, we sinners who have exulted ourselves will be laid low. The wages of sin is death. Simple as that. But there is one who humbles himself – and He who humbles Himself will be exulted. And that is what Christ Jesus did. There is Jesus – He is God, He is holy, He is righteous, He is above and beyond us. Yet what does He do? He humbles Himself to be born of a Virgin. He humbles Himself to hunger and thirst and to be beaten and mocked and scorned. He humbles Himself upon the Cross and dies. He takes up our humiliation, the humbling that we deserve for our false exultation. And then He is raised, and now He is exulted over all things. Jesus points us to Himself here again, He is proclaiming that He is the suffering servant who will save His people. But not just that. He is also the Master of the great feast, the master of the eternal wedding feast of the life of the world to come… and as He has been exulted, so too He looks to you, and He invites you to life everlasting, and He does not expect you to exalt yourself. He doesn’t expect you to earn a place of honor – in fact, He warns you against all those vainglorious attempts. Instead, He sees you in laid low by sin and temptation and death, and He reaches out His hand of love and forgiveness to you, and He says friend, move up higher, come, be with Me for all eternity.
Today’s text, dear friends, may sit odd. It’s not your typical healing – and it’s not meant to be. Today Christ reminds us of His gentle and kind love that He has for you… love that is not based on how great or wonderful you are, love that is not stopped even by your pride and disdain. No, Christ has humbled Himself, He has suffered and died and risen again, all so that you might be with Him in His exultation for all eternity. This is His great and gentle love for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +