Luke 14:1-14 Last week we heard that there is a narrow door that leads to heaven and only those who have faith in Jesus will enter it and take their place in God’s kingdom. We also heard that-- as wide open as that door is today, there is coming a day when it will be closed-- and those who are left outside--will never enter in. These folks will claim a familiarity with Jesus (that they ate and drank in his presence) but because they never had faith in him—he will not claim them as his own.
Today we see these faithless people take on flesh and bone. Jesus was invited to the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees for dinner with other local dignitaries. They eat and drink in his presence. They heard his teaching. They were familiar with him—but faith in him was absent because the fruits of faith were not there.
What we are going learn from this is that faith in Jesus is MUCH MORE than just a cold, sterile recitation of the facts of his life. Instead, the true and living faith by which we enter into God’s kingdom has the living Christ as its content—and baptized into his death and resurrection--believing in him—filled with his Spirit--his life of humility and hospitality will be lived out in our own life. The Bible says that:
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.
There had already been conflict between the lawyers and Pharisees and Jesus over his healing people on the Sabbath—a work of mercy that many of them regarded as breaking God’s Law since it was done on the wrong day of the week--and now there was a whole room full of witnesses. What would Jesus do?
As in so many other instances, the person who was put forward by the Pharisees, was not fully human in their eyes—but a handy object in their plan to trip up and trap Jesus. But Jesus didn’t see people as props or tools or case studies for applied ethics—they were people who needed his mercy.
The Bible says that the man had “dropsy” which is the accumulation of fluids in the body—perhaps as the result of congestive heart failure—but whatever the cause, he was desperately ill. And put forward by the Pharisees to “trip-up” Jesus, Jesus turned it back to them, asking them:
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away.
They had no answer because the Mosaic Law gave no specific answer. There were various rabbinic interpretations and opinions that differed with one another—but no clear command in the Law of God. But they all knew what the law was really all about: to love our neighbor as ourselves. And that’s what Jesus did. He healed him --and sent him on his way.
But Jesus wasn’t through with those who opposed him—he still loved them and wanted them to be a part of his kingdom too—and for that to happen they needed to see the truth about themselves. And so he asked them another question:
“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.
Even without their having said a word, the judgment of Almighty God that they wanted to render against Jesus --came to rest upon them. The Law of God and their own conscience CRIED OUT for mercy to those in need—but they refused.
What about us? All of us have the power to act mercifully to those in need and the Lord provides us with plenty of opportunities. But much too often we look like the Pharisees trying to figure some reason why mercy isn’t required of us or why the person before us is the wrong person to help.
Our Lord wasn’t that way—he reached out to help those who needed his help whenever he came across them. It’s why he came to earth and took on flesh in the first place: to do for us what we could not do for ourselves—to do what was in his power alone to do—and that is to reconcile us to God by his death in our place.
As those who are the recipients of his mercy, we are called act with mercy towards others—and that relationship between Jesus and us—of us standing in need of the help that only he can give—cannot help but make us humble. The Bible says that:
Jesus 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 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.
There has never been anything on TV as interesting as watching living, breathing human beings interacting with one another. Of course, when Jesus is the one doing the “people-watching” it’s something else altogether. It’s a reminder that how we act towards one another is not hidden from God—not even what’s in our hearts.
And so what did Jesus see at that dinner party? He saw plenty of people seeking out the most prominent places for themselves—each of them trying to get a seat at the head table. But he also saw their hearts--the exalted view that they had of themselves over against their fellow guests for whom they had little regard.
This is not only a problem with the prominent and the powerful. On the night when Jesus was betrayed, as he and the disciples gathered in the upper room, not one of them was willing to do a servant’s work and wash the other’s feet. They may have just been fishermen—but they were certainly not servants! They had their pride after all! And so Jesus humbly served them—just as he had come to do for us all.
The ruler of the Pharisees and all his important guests thought that Jesus was the one who should have been honored just to have been invited. But the truth is that Jesus was the only one there deserving of exaltation-- and he had a very definite opinion about what he was seeing as the guests jockeyed for honor.
He said that what they ought to do (rather than risk the public humiliation of having to move from a higher to a lower spot) was choose the lowest place first. That they ought to consider, just for the sake of argument, that just maybe, they were not the most important person in the room—that others might come before them.
Of course Jesus was talking about much, much more than how to conduct oneself in polite society—he was talking about how own life and life in his kingdom—that those who are humble are lifted up. He said: Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
His own holy life is the example of that—making himself a servant so that we could become God’s children—and that is how his kingdom works for us too.
Who we are and what we are is by God’s grace alone. There is nothing that we have, that we have not received. Our high status as children of God is only true of us because Jesus set aside divine honor and glory to humble himself upon the cross.
This humility of our Lord changes how we view ourselves and how we view others. No longer do we keep others at arm’s length. Instead, we reach out to them and invite them to take their place with us in God’s kingdom. Jesus said:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see him eating with the oddest people: Pharisees who were his enemies. Notorious sinners. Disciples who betrayed him and failed him. He never kept anyone at arm’s length-- but embraced all people in love and made a place for them at his table.
It’s in those meals that we can clearly see how the mercy and humility of Jesus came together in a hospitality that welcomed all people to have a part in his life. No one was kept away by Jesus because they were sinners. No one was kept away by Jesus because of their social status. All people are welcomed by Jesus.
In every meal where Jesus gives his body and blood under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, he humbly condescends to make himself present for sinners and he does this in mercy—knowing that we need the forgiveness and fellowship he gives there but that those around us do too—and so he says to us:
When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
We live in a time and place: where even in the midst of great crowds, people feel isolated and alone—where families are fragmented—where television and the Internet offer only an illusion of community. There is an entire world full of broken, needy people just waiting for our invitation to partake of the Lord’s never-ending feast of forgiveness and as we do that we have the Lord’s own promise that:
No act of mercy or humility or hospitality that we do in faith is ever forgotten by the Lord and it will be rewarded as we take our place in God’s kingdom. Amen.