Luke 14:1-14 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 17—Series C)
“A Lesson in Humility”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 28, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel reading recorded in Luke 14:
1And it happened that when He went into the house of a certain ruler of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. 2And behold, a certain man suffering from dropsy was before Him. 3And Jesus replied and spoke to the experts in the Law and to the Pharisees saying, “Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4But they were silent. And taking hold of him, He healed him and released him. 5And He said to them, ‘Which of you having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him up on a Sabbath day?’ 6And they were not able to answer back to these things. 7And He spoke a parable to those who had been invited, having noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not recline in the place of honor, lest someone more honored than you should be invited by him. 9And he who invited both you and him will come and say to you, ‘Give [up] this place,’ and then you will begin with shame to occupy the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored before all those who recline at table with you. 11Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. 12And He also said to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a brunch or a banquet, do not call your friends nor your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest also they should invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you make a banquet, invite the poor, the cripples, the lame, the blind; 14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
In 1980, singer-songwriter Mac Davis released the song, “Hard to be Humble.” The refrain goes like this: “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror ‘cause I get better looking each day. To know me is to love me; I must be a [heck] of a man. Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best that I can.” Sounds like he would give Mary Poppins, who was “practically perfect in every way,” a run for her money. Not a lot of humility going on here.
There’s often not a lot of humility going on in our lives, either. As in the days of Jesus, so today popularity and social status is very important to people. Who has the most friends on Facebook or Twitter? Who gets the best office? Who has the nicer cell phone or tablet? Seems like people are in such competition to be on top with everything.
Let’s face it, we like to be recognized. We like to be honored. We like to be “top dog.” Makes us feel good about ourselves. Gives us that, “Hey, I’m pretty good” feeling. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A healthy and positive self-esteem is a good thing, a good gift from God. The problem comes in when we start to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3). Self-esteem and self-worth is one thing; going beyond that so that you come to see yourself as “better than” or “more important than” or the “most honored” is a problem. It’s a problem because we don’t stop at being better than other people and loving ourselves more than others, but we move on to think believe we are even better than God, more efficient at handling our problems than God, and better at taking care of ourselves than God.
That’s our human inclination to selfishness and self-glory, our sinful desire to be number one in our lives. That’s why we don’t see anything wrong with taking the better seats at the banquet, finding the places where we will get the most honor and the highest regard. It strokes our selfish egos. It fills us with pride. We feel good about ourselves, even at the expense of others. Or especially at the expense of others, “Look how I rank compared to so-and-so.”
But when we are on top of our own egotistical, selfish little worlds, what happens? The host comes and says, “Give up this seat. It doesn’t belong to you. It’s for someone more honored. Move down.” How embarrassing! How humiliating! It sure doesn’t feel good getting knocked off our high horse like that, does it? But we all have. We all know that feeling. But think about God doing that with us—putting us in our place, knocking us down from our self-imposed places of honor. Think about where we deserve to be at His banquet table in His kingdom. What did we learn last week from God’s Word? We are unclean, unfit for heaven and inadequate to be in the presence of God at His banquet table. The Lord wouldn’t just tell us to move down the ranks, He wouldn’t let us in to the feast at all, “I do not know where you come from. Depart from me all workers of unrighteousness.” How’s that for a dose of reality?
Reality is what we get from God’s Word of Law that puts us in our rightful place. We are not better than God. We are not better than our neighbors. You and I are sinful. We are unclean, our selfish pride and our desire for honor and glory at the expense of others proves that. God’s Law shows us so clearly that we have not always loved our neighbors as ourselves because we have simply been too busy loving ourselves! You and I have ignored the helpless and have been callous toward genuine need. There are times when we have been selfish and stingy with our time and money. We have not always spoken the truth in love. We have often sought to satisfy our desires at the expense and well-being of others like our spouse or our children, our friends and co-workers. Also, too often we trust in ourselves more than the Lord. We love ourselves more than Him.
The reality of our sinfulness and our standing before God really puts us in our place, doesn’t it? God’s Law doesn’t mince words. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It brings us down from our self-imposed place of honor. God’s Law humbles us before Him because we are left only to confess what His Word says about us—that we are sinners before Him with selfish egos and puffed up pride who too often think more highly of ourselves than we ought, who do not always love God first nor consider others more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
So what happens when the Law humbles us by showing us our sin and our standing before God? What happens when we come to know our sin and acknowledge that we are unfit for the heavenly banquet feast in the Lord’s kingdom?
God changes our status. We who have been humbled by God’s Law are now exalted, lifted up to the place of honor in His kingdom through an act of undeserved kindness. God the Father humbled His one-of-a-kind Son by placing on Him all of our sins and uncleanness. Jesus took upon Himself our selfishness, our egos, our pride, and He humbled Himself to death on a cross to pay for those sins in full so there would be no punishment for us. Jesus bled and died so that you and I would no longer be counted unclean but rather forgiven. God declares you and me “not guilty” of sin because of the saving work of Jesus Christ through His cross and resurrection. No longer guilty of sin because of Jesus, we who were once outcasts—like the Pharisees considered the poor and crippled, the lame and the blind—are invited graciously to the Lord’s banquet feast, even though there is no way that we can ever repay Him.
The Lord, by His grace alone through the Holy Spirit, humbled and exalts us. He brings us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Through Gospel Word and Sacrament, we receive what we don’t deserve, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation from sin, death, and the devil. We are gifted in Christ a place in the Lord’s Table now, where we eat and drink His true body and blood with the bread and wine, a foretaste of the heavenly feast to come at the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which will never end. The Lord Christ honors us by His grace, seating us at His Table in His kingdom both now and forever more!
You and I, then, have been humbled by God’s Law, for we have come to know our sins and our unclean standing before the Lord. We have been exalted by God’s promises in Christ, for we have received the forgiveness of our sins and given a holy, honored standing before God in Christ our Redeemer. Along with that new standing before God, we also are given the renewed responsibility of serving and loving our neighbors as Christ first loved and served us. Through the working of the Holy Spirit we are empowered to look for opportunities to help those in need who cannot reciprocate or pay us back. We can never repay the Lord back for His loving sacrifice of Himself on the cross. Therefore, we love as He loves—graciously, freely, without thought of repayment or reward. We count others more important than ourselves, using our money, our prayer-time, our labor, our voices to share with others what they need, especially the good news of Jesus the Savior.
All of us like to be recognized for who we are. We like to be honored. God recognized us as the sinners that we are, and He chose to save us from our sin and to make us He saints. The Lord chose to honor us with the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life won for us by the sacrificial death of Jesus on a cross. By His mercy, we have been gifted faith and life through Jesus. We have a guaranteed place at the banquet table of God’s kingdom. With the help of the Holy Spirit, live each day as the redeemed children of God that you are. Continue to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Continue to love your neighbors with your words and actions as you serve them in Jesus’ name. Amen.