Trinity 17 – October 7th and 8th, 2017 – 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 +
So in today's Gospel, we get two stories, two times when people watch each other, look them over. We start with the Pharisees watching Jesus, and then Jesus watching the Pharisees. And the thing to note, my friends, is how these are two radically different approaches to life – they form a striking contrast – one that we should learn from, one that we should benefit from. So, let's work our way through our text and see what we see, shall we?
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. Alright, so do you see what's going on? Jesus gets an invite to come to Sabbath dinner – which was an honor. And being a good Jew you didn't work on the Sabbath – everything had to be prepared beforehand, and at dinner you didn't really do much. You sat and talked about the Word of God together. That's the way it's supposed to go. Yet this time, this big-wig Pharisee invites Jesus to his house for the Sabbath meal – but he does so with false pretenses. They are going to be hard at work on the Sabbath examining Jesus, seeing if He will mess up some how. And to make it more likely that Jesus “messes up” - oh look, here's a fellow with dropsy. Drospy was basically what they called any nasty swelling disease, where there's massive fluid retention and things like that. And the fellow with dropsy isn't a Pharisee – he doesn't belong there, this isn't his crowd. He just happens to be there, right in front of Jesus. And the Pharisees are all side-eyeing Jesus – so what are you going to do there Jesus? Are you going to work on Sabbath – because then we can complain about how you worked – naughty naughty naughty. Or will you ignore the fellow – then we can complain about how you are a lousy healer. It's a trap.
Well, Jesus isn't one for just taking a trap – He likes to flip them around. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Jesus knows it's a trap – that's why he “responds” to the lawyers and the Pharisees. I see your trap – so I'll throw the ball back in to your court. How do you folks want to play this – do you want me to heal or not to heal? “But they remained silent.” Of course they do – because they are worried, terrified that Jesus will get on their case no matter what they do. Do you see their fear – they think Jesus is just as petty and mean as they are, and they are worried that He'll get the high ground in all their petty games. They can't spin it to their advantage. So they have to be silent.
Then we get one of the most matter of fact accounts of a healing ever. Then Jesus took him and healed him and sent him away. Go on home, you don't want to be here – go rejoice with your family. Now let me get back to these Pharisees here. 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?” Jesus brings up a simple question – emergency acts were allowed on the Sabbath. You didn't plan work – but if crazy stuff came up, you take care of it. But here's the thing – And they could not reply to these things. The Pharisees were the super-Jews of the day – they went above and beyond the Law, just to make sure that they never came close to “breaking it”. They had a ton of extra, man-made rules about the Sabbath to try to stay out of that situation. So if they agree with Jesus that emergencies can be tended to on the Sabbath – they admit that their rules go beyond what God has said. And if they disagree, they show themselves to be loveless and hateful. Their plan to eyeball Jesus has ended in abject failure. They can't say anything – they are silenced.
Well, mostly silenced. The Pharisees do what most groups do when an uncomfortable truth is spoken – they ignore Jesus and go back to their meal. We'll just leave Jesus there and carry on as normal. Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor... They ignore Jesus and go back to normal – which means there is all sorts of jockeying for places of honor and prestige – I want to move in closer to the most popular person there, who can I squeeze in between and the like. We see this all the time whenever someone popular or powerful shows up – people start swirling around trying to get into better position. And the Pharisees had left Jesus alone – which is a dangerous thing to do – and Jesus sees all this flittering and fluttering around, and suddenly He starts to talk. And imagine every head suddenly swinging toward Him – cause they had forgotten He was there. 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.' 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. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Oh, this is fantastic on many, many levels. What does Jesus do when He ends up watching the Pharisees? First, and on the simplest level – He just puts them back on track. I hope you noticed that Jesus did not just invent this idea, this parable on the spot. He's riffing off of, He's expanding on Proverbs 25 – our Old Testament lesson. He's talking about and expanding upon Scripture – which was the point of the Sabbath meal. Folks, we aren't here for posturing, or putting folks up or putting folks down – we were here to enjoy good food while we delight in God's Word. So let's talk about the Word, folks! Jesus calls them away from themselves and their own pride, and rather He focuses them upon the Word.
However, the super neat thing Jesus does is He shows how He is the Messiah. Now – wait a minute, how in tarnation is Jesus teaching that He is the Messiah here with this parable. Remember, Jesus is playing off of Proverbs 25 – this is a famous Proverb – the Pharisees would be expected to make the connection – they knew their Old Testament much better than we do. Proverbs 25:6 begins “Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence...” The King. A Proverb written by Solomon – the Son of David. And yet, Jesus shifts it – when you are invited to a wedding feast. Over and over, both in the Old Testament and in the New – the Kingdom of God is likened to a wedding feast. The classic depiction of God's relationship to Israel was of a husband and wife – so Jesus is basically saying “I'm the King, the wedding feast is coming – I'm the Messiah”. This is textbook Messianic preaching. I'm the Messiah, and I am here, and you guys shouldn't bother trying to posture and strut in front of me – you should be humble, you should repent as John the Baptist had preached.
But it's better than that. This parable is all about Jesus – and we can tell by the last sentence – For EVERYONE who exalts himself will be humbled, and HE who humbles himself will be exalted.” Did you catch it? If you're doing a simple contrast about life, you use the same subject in both parts of the sentence. You do this or you do that. Everyone who does X and everyone who does Y. But that's not what Jesus does. It's a contrast between everyone who exalts themselves and the One, the singular One, the only One, who truly humbles Himself. Yes, Jesus is the Messiah – and you know what the Messiah does? He doesn't come to put everyone in their place, He doesn't come to strut His stuff. He doesn't come to be the giant Queen Bee that makes everyone buzz around Him. Nope – His goal, His job, His delight is to bring in the wedding feast of the Lamb, to look at fallen sinners and call them into the eternal feast that has no end, and in order to do that – He has to take away your sin. And so Jesus is the One who will humble Himself by going to the cross and who will be exalted on the third day when He is raised from the dead.
Do you get the difference in approach? The Pharisees are utterly self-centered – watching Jesus just so that they can try to one-up Him in the pecking order. And they can't, so then they start to ignore Him. Then Jesus is watching the Pharisees – and if He wanted to read them the riot act, He could. Jesus could have laid into them and made them feel two inches tall. But that's not what He does. When Jesus looks upon these Pharisees, these folks who have specifically invited Him there just to hurt Him – He points them to the Word, He points them to Himself as the Messiah who longs to invite them up higher, to call them to be with Him forever.
So here's the thing. The world loves to look for weakness, but it does so for a very evil reason. When the world sees weakness or tragedy, it casts blame, makes political speeches, laments how other people are ruining the world. The world will use your weakness against you – and if we are honest, we too are tempted to use other peoples' weakness and flaws against them. But that's not what Jesus does. To be sure, Jesus sees you. He even sees you with all your warts – all of them. He sees you with with all your sin and wickedness, even the ones you try to ignore, even the ones that leave you speechless. But here's the twist. Jesus isn't seeking to crush you – no, He sees your sin to take it from you and place it upon Himself. That's what He did at your baptism – that was a promise to you that every drop of sin had been washed off of you and washed onto Christ Jesus – who would take it to the Cross for you. Jesus rescues you from the well of sin and death. He dives right on into your sin and goes to the Cross. Then, He rises from the dead and He calls you to His Supper to strengthen your faith and help you to show love to your neighbor. While the world is full of people watching everyone in order to place blame, to get political advantage, all that sort of junk – that's not a game Jesus is interested in playing at all. His goal, His focus is being your Savior no matter what happens in the world. And that He is. Simple. Period. Jesus sees you not to cast blame upon you, but to take way your sin, to say to you, “Friend, come up higher with Me for all eternity.” In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +