Trinity 17 – September 30th, 2012 – Luke 14:1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I had said in last week’s sermon that if you wanted to understand why Jesus does what He does, why He heals, why He preaches how He preaches, that you should understand that everywhere He goes He sees sin, sees death – and that He wishes to fight against that sin, against that death. If I preach something, it should hold true – so, what we will do today is consider this text, our Gospel lesson with this idea of Jesus facing down sin and death in the back of our minds, and we will see our Lord fighting for us in this text today. Let’s dive in.
“One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully.” Now, here’s something that is interesting to note. There you have Jesus, and He is a guest at a Sabbath diner. Remember, if you are a good Jew, you don’t do work on the Sabbath, you don’t cook, everything had to be prepared before hand – so it was a fine and good thing to invite people to rest at your house and be served. Don’t do work – yet, what’s going on? What are the Pharisees doing? They were “watching Him carefully” – this isn’t paying attention to see if He will teach, this isn’t gladly hearing preaching the Word of God and holding it sacred. No – this is referring to examining Jesus, checking Him over for any mistakes that He might make, for any reason that they could then say, “A ha! He is a fraud, ignore Him!” So, ironically, the Pharisees themselves are working this Sabbath day – in their self-righteousness they are working hard, getting ready to kill Christ’s reputation, to put the worst construction on everything, to explain nothing in the kindest way. Again, sin and death are at work – gone is simple love and service – in its place is scheming and contempt.
This is further shown as the plan unfolds. “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” And lookie here, there’s a sick man. And here’s something to note about this man – there’s no reason for him to be there. He’s not a Pharisee, he’s not a man of note. He sticks out like a sore thumb – this sick man is nothing but a test. Ah, those Pharisees are working hard with their plots and their traps – what will you do, Jesus? Will you heal on the Sabbath – will you dare to do work on the Sabbath in front of us… because then we will go to work point the finger at You and shouting how horrible You are! It’s a neat little trap. Two deaths are laid before Christ – on the one hand, there is this ill man, who has a horrible, painful debilitating disease – that’s death. And so the Pharisees set up another death – if you heal him, Jesus, we will kill your reputation! We will slay Your popularity, we will turn the people against you!
So now there are two problems, two pitfalls before Christ. And He will deal with them both. “And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent.” Jesus deals with the lesser death, the lesser threat first. You Pharisees, you lawyers think to trap me, to slay my reputation – alright, with the measure you use, so it shall be measured back to you. What should I do – how would you act in the trap you have set for Me? And they cannot answer. Why? If someone says “heal the man” – then he would be open to attack and being lambasted for ignoring the Sabbath. If someone says, “No, you cannot heal”, then again they would be open to attack and being lambasted for not loving the neighbor. Jesus calls them on their little game – He says, ‘Your petty game is foolishness and harmful, and I am putting an end to it by turning it around upon you – now you will be silent, and none of you will kill anyone with your hurtful words.” The attempted character assassination, the planned death is put to an end. And with that out of the way, Jesus can move on.
“Then He took him and healed him and sent him away.” Again, seeing illness, seeing creeping death in this man – Jesus deals with it simply. The man is healed and gets to go home. You don’t need to hang out here where you aren’t really welcome, you don’t need to stay here with these accusing eyes all around. Be healed, and go home, rejoice with your friends and family – rejoice with those who want to see life, rather than death. And that’s what Jesus then points out to the Pharisees. “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?’ I’m in the business of life – if I see life threatened by death – if I see pain and suffering, I will fix it. Indeed, the point of the Sabbath is so that you can rest from the weariness of fighting death, so that you might have life spoken to you once again in God’s Word and that you might be ready to show forth life and love in the coming week – the point is life, life over and against sin and death. The point is care and service and fighting against sin and death.
But these people are trapped in sin, trapped in self-righteousness, trapped in death. “And they could not reply to these things.” They couldn’t reply to His question. Jesus has taught them, shown them that the life and forgiveness and salvation is the key – and yet, they are so wrapped up in death – looking to kill another to elevate themselves, worried that someone else might kill their reputation to get ahead, than even when presented with life, they can say nothing.
This is shown in the next part of our Gospel lesson – the musical chairs scene. “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor…” Again, what is Christ seeing? He’s seeing death. Instead of people there simply to enjoy God’s good gifts of food and friends and community and joy – what do you have? You have people striving and fighting after honor – after their own elevation at another’s expense. That seat is too good for you, move down and let me take it – die a little bit in everyone’s eyes, scum, for I am better than you. It’s cruelty, it’s domination, it’s terrible. And so Jesus tells a parable – and really, it’s nothing new to these folks – Jesus is just playing off of what King Solomon had taught in Proverbs, in our Old Testament lesson.
“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.” You guys have it backwards. If you seek to take honor for yourself, what good is that? All you will do is step on another, all you will do is assert dominance in the middle of a terrible social scrap – and chances are you’ll be humiliated as well. Death and pain is your way. But no, instead, be humble, and then let someone else come to you and give you life – receive respect and honor as a gift – not as something you have to scramble and fight for – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” If you are playing the honor game, if you are exalting yourself… that’s just the way of death. That’s the way that leaves you unfulfilled and empty, it’s the way of sin and death to where you don’t even recognize a good thing when it’s right in front of you. There Jesus had healed a man of a terrible disease, and they weren’t sure how to react because they were worried about exalting themselves. What a terrible life! No joy, no real honor, no real respect – just simply waiting and hoping to knock someone else down a peg, all the while worrying that someone is going to knock you out. No, against that Christ preaches humility – be a servant, be lowly, and then, when you are exulted by the host, then you will have joy, then you will enjoy the blessing and honor that is given you – then you will have life instead of death.
So then, let’s consider what we should learn from what Christ teaches us today in this text. Let us not think like the Pharisees – let us abandon the social dance of death where we try to place ourselves above our neighbor. That’s just death – it robs us of our joy, our delight, our contentment. It makes us miserable when we play that comparison game, when we nitpick each other and live in fear of being nitpicked in return. No, that is not good for you, that’s death, that kills joy, kills blessings. No – rather this. Know that your God loves you. Know that Christ Jesus has humble Himself for you, humbled Himself even to the point of death upon a cross – and why? So that He would be raised from the dead, so that He would be exulted – and that as He is exulted, you are exulted as well. His resurrection is your resurrection, His life is your life. And so He calls to you today, He calls you away from death and worry and despair, and He says to you, I will give you forgiveness and joy and peace – I will give you life instead of a dog eat dog death.
Sin, fear, this world of death – they call out to us, try to entrap us, make us miserable. Sin and Satan will try to get you to elevate yourself, to try and make you place yourself above others, to fill your life with fretting and worrying. Over and against that, Christ Jesus has said this – you are forgiven for His sake. Even if the world sees you as dirty and wrinkled, He has declared you to be His bride without spot or wrinkle or blemish – you are clean and holy, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism – He has elevated you to His side, and there ain’t nothing that anyone can say to you or about you that will change that fact. He has said that you don’t need to sit back in the corner, no, come to the head table, to His table – take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, shed for you that you might have life, and have it abundantly.
This week, my friends, you will see sin and death, and sin and death will be tugging at you, trying to make your life one of fear and worry and social scrambling. And sometimes that sin will hit you hard. But over and against the ravings of sin, its attempts to kill you and your joy – remember this. You belong to Christ, you are His, He is yours, and He has given you life, He has made you to know His life – He has given you His Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, and nothing this world throws at you can change that. Be at peace in Christ and His love for you, for you are baptized into Christ and have His life always. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +