Trinity 17 – Luke 14:1-11 – October 14th, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Who do you love? When you show love, is it primarily directed at your neighbor, or is your love directed at yourself? When you act, is your first thought how you can be of care and compassion to your neighbor, or are your thoughts focus upon yourself, making yourself look good, covering your own backside, and keeping up appearances? As a sinner, you will tend towards the later, for your sinful flesh will always seek to serve itself first and foremost. In our Gospel Lesson today our Lord contrasts this vain, sinful self-love that is in reality empty and heartless, with the true love that cares for the neighbor, the love that He freely shows.
“One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” So, here is the situation. Jesus has been invited to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees – and this would be a great honor. This is the best person in town inviting you to his house for a nice, fancy meal. This is hoity-toity, this is just too cha-cha-cha. High Society! The High Life. And these Pharisees, these muckity-mucks are watching Jesus carefully. How will He behave – will He make sure that He looks good, will He jump though all the proper social hoops to be one of them? Will He care first and foremost about protecting His own reputation? And to fully test this – oh, look, there just happens to be a fellow here who is sick with dropsy – a nasty disease full or swelling and discomfort and nastiness. There’s no reason for this sick man to be there – he’s not one of the Pharisees. He’s just a test – okay Jesus, you like to heal, are you going to dare mess around with our party and heal right in front of us on a Sabbath – You know how we would disapprove of this? Which will it be Jesus, protect Your reputation, or heal this man?
“And Jesus responded to lawyers and the Pharisees saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ But they remained silent.” Jesus knows what is going on. Note – He “responded” to them. He knows the trap – and so He asks them – what do you think, is it lawful, is it okay to heal on the Sabbath. And they remain silent – they don’t answer. Well, in reality, that is their answer. If they thought it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath they would have begged Jesus to heal the man. Nope, the Lawyers and the Pharisees think it is better to remain cold and silent to the sick man, better to protect their own status, rather than show love. Now here is the question that we must ask ourselves. How often does making ourselves look good, seem good, seem proper – take precedent in our lives over showing love? How often do we cave to peer pressure or what society thinks? How often do we worry more about what people will think than what our neighbor needs? We must recognize this for what it is – sin. Gross, vile, wicked, selfish sin. To remain silent in the face of another’s need – that is hatred of the neighbor, and it is wrong.
So Jesus acts. “Then [Jesus] took him and healed him and sent him away.” This is fantastic care. Jesus just heals the man – no fuss – here you go, here is your help. And then Jesus sends him away, sends him back home. This guy didn’t belong there – they didn’t want him, they were just gawking at him, using him. Go home to your family, rejoice with them, I’ll deal with the Pharisees and the lawyers. And so having cared for this man, Jesus turns to the Lawyers and asks, “’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 they could not reply to these things.” It’s a simple question – if you have one of your possessions in danger, you act to defend it, to save it. If your son falls in a well, you don’t say, “Tough, shouldn’t have happened on the Sabbath.” You act, you defend, you protect. This is obvious – and they know it. So, why would Jesus then even think about hesitating to heal this man on the Sabbath? And what Jesus is throwing in their faces is Cain’s old question. Cain the murderer asked flippantly, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Do I really bear any responsibility for my neighbor? Cain thought not, and he was a murderer. You, when you disdain your neighbor, when you disdain this man – you are thinking like Cain.
Jesus knows what the problem is, what the heart of the matter is. Sinful man always wants to serve, always wants to promote himself. Sinful man wants to deny his own sin, deny his own sinfulness, wants to pretend that everything is hunky-dory, and that if there is some bad, well, that’s not that big of a problem, I’ll work it out on my own. Sinful man wants to do things his own way, wants to saunter on up to God and say, “See, I should be Your favorite because I’m the best one, certainly better than those people.” This is the attitude here behind what these Pharisees are doing. And be honest – you know this attitude. Satan whispers these sorts of thoughts, these sorts of temptations in your ears all the time. It’s a common way he likes to attack Christians – to turn a desire to be righteous into gross self-righteousness, to turn a desire to please God into vain and futile attempts to impress God and claim honors and glory for the self. After all, we’re “good Christians” aren’t we, and of course we do “nice” things, don’t we? And we think less and less about our sin, we struggle less and less against it, we confess it less and less… and we can slowly fall away. Instead of being those who receive Christ and His love, we become those who think that we are “giving ourselves” to God, as though God needed us. We are the ones that need God.
The Lawyers, the Pharisees, they had forgotten that. They figured that Jesus needed their approval, more than they needed to learn and be forgiven by Jesus. And so, Jesus teaches them again an old lesson, one first taught in Proverbs. “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, ‘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 to you and say, “Give your place to this person,” and then you will with shame begin to take the lowest place.’” Simple enough idea. If you show up at a wedding reception, you don’t go and sit down at the head table – because they are going to kick you out. And that’s embarrassing, it’s stupid. If you try to elevate yourself, to draw attention and focus to yourself – if you spend all your time trying to prove how wonderful you are, you will get knocked down a peg. On the other hand, “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. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” It’s much better to be called forward, to be greeted gladly and with joy, than to be met with disdain and mocking. And that springs from humility, that springs from keeping oneself humble. And by this, I mean truly humble. What’s the point of getting praise if you “expect” praise? Then it’s not praise, it’s what you think is your just deserts. But when you maintain humility, when you keep yourself humble, when you aren’t so busy patting yourself on the back, the pats on the back that others give you will actually mean something.
Of course, there is a spiritual, a theological point to this. This isn’t simply a teaching on how to be gracious in accepting praise, or keeping humility so you can not win an honor with a straight face. No, there is a point here. If you are worried, first and foremost about honoring yourself, showing yourself to be a good little Christian, then in your pride and arrogance you will fall, you will fall into sin and disbelief. That’s just the danger we face as sinner – we want to elevate ourselves, we want to be the ones that bring ourselves into God’s House, into God’s Kingdom and say, “Well, I’m here, now everything can go on.” It doesn’t work that way. As Christians we acknowledge one thing – that we are poor miserable sinners, that we sin constantly. Not that we used to but now we are better – to the contrary – as you grow in the faith, as you learn God’s Law more and more, you should see more and more sin in your life – you should see your own wickedness more clearly. Things that you would have done without thought years ago should stand out to you as sinful temptations now. The Law always shows us our sin – and so growing in the faith will also mean growing in awareness of sin – of recognizing how high the standards are… and this brings forth humility. But here is the thing – this humility is not bad, because the Christian faith is not about our righteousness, about how good we are. The Christian life – yes, there we strive to show love to our neighbor, to learn to show love more and more – but the Christian faith, that faith which gives life – that is all about Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is the One who sees you in your humility, in your continual struggle in sin, that ever more difficult struggle, and He comes to you and says, “welcome friend. See, I have baptized you, and Your sin is forgiven, your home is here. Welcome friend, come, the feast is prepared, and for now I give you My own Body and Blood for the remission of your sin, for its forgiveness and defeat – I strengthen you with My Word so that you may continue your struggle against sin now – and I will raise you from the dead on the last day, and you will have rest and enjoy perfection and true life with Me for all eternity.” You don’t have to elevate yourself, you don’t have to worry about proving yourself, or saving yourself. Why? Because you are in truth the neighbor upon whom Christ Jesus has compassion. Christ Jesus sees your lack – you needed try to hide it from Him, you needn’t try to put on some happy mask – He sees your sin, your illness. And He heals you. You are forgiven. You have life in Him. He has suffered and died for you, your sin is destroyed and done away with – and having healed you He sends you back to your homes, to your friends, your family, your neighbors until that day where He calls you to His side for all eternity. Rejoice with them over the truth that you are forgiven, enjoy this blessing. God grant to each of us here hearts that are continually humble, so that we would never grow to despise this gift of forgiveness, but rather would with joy receive it whenever we hear the Gospel of Christ proclaimed, whenever we are called forward to His own Table in His Supper. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +