During this past Memorial Day week end the entire Surburg family was in Marion to celebrate Matthew and Abigail’s birthday. The Surburg family has grown. My dad was an only child. He and my mom had two children. My brother and I each married, and now there are nine children between us. There were fifteen Surburg’s gathered together at our house.
One of the great blessings in our family, is that everyone is on the same page – we all share the same worldview. Not only are all Christians, but we are all Lutherans who believe the same thing and actively practice the faith. We have the same worldview and so share the same ideas about culture and politics.
My parents, my brother and our wives are all thankful for this. But we are not naïve. We pray it will continue because we recognize that our children are still growing up. There are powerful factors that could impact all of this. The first is what could happen in the course of their education, especially at college. And the second, and perhaps more significant factor, is the person they one day marry. We recognize that these could bring about changes that result in a far less unified and harmonious setting. After all, there are nine of them, and it’s hard to go nine for nine.
We all know family settings – perhaps even our own – where get togethers easily become tense because of significant differences in religious, cultural, and political views. The same can be true of groups of friends, or the people with whom we work. Yet none of these can compare to the setting in which our Gospel lesson take place this morning.
The first verse of the chapter says, “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.” Now by this point in Luke’s Gospel, we know that the Pharisees view Jesus as a threat and an enemy. They have repeatedly engaged in disputes with him. The Sabbath has been a source of conflict. In addition, meals – what should be done there and the people with whom Jesus was willing to eat – have been a source of controversy. So when Jesus eats at a meal, with Pharisees, on the Sabbath, you could hardly devise a more tense situation. As we are told, the Pharisees were watching him carefully.
Just before our text, Jesus has asked the Pharisees if it is permitted to heal on the Sabbath. They were silent and unable to answer, as the Lord healed a man present with dropsy – sever edema. Then Jesus has critiqued how all the guests were trying to get the most honorable place at the table that they could. Instead, he said they should take the lowest place. Christ taught humility and then said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then, just before our text, he has told the host of the meal – a ruler of the Pharisees – that when he had a dinner, he should not invite his riche friends and relatives. He shouldn’t invite the people who could be counted on to respond in turn. Instead our Lord said in the verse before our text, “But 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 learn that when one of those who reclined at table with Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The Old Testament describes God’s end time salvation as a feast. The individual making the statement, was of course assuming that he would be included in this.
So Jesus told a parable about a man who gave a great banquet and invited many. At the time of the banquet he sent out his servant to tell those who had been invited: “Come for everything is now ready.” The key thing to recognize here is that the practice in first century Palestine was different than what we know today. People were invited to a feast and accepted the invitation. They indicated they would be attending. Then on the day when the meal was prepared a servant was sent to announce that all was ready and it was time to come to the banquet.
In the parable, the servant went out to make this announcement. But then, the unthinkable happened. Everyone who had been invited said that they weren’t coming. One man said that he had bought some land and needed to go look at it. Another said that he had bought five yoke of oxen and needed to examine them. Finally, a man said that he had married a wife so he couldn’t come.
It was bad enough that those who had accepted the invitation, were now rejecting the hospitality of the host. But what made it worse was that all of the “explanations” were obviously bogus. No one made the large investment of land or five yoke of oxen without already taking a look. There was no way a wedding or anything involving a marriage would conflict with an invitation that had already been accepted. The guests were simply rejecting the host.
In this first section of the parable, Jesus is describing the Pharisees. God’s saving reign was present in Jesus Christ, and yet they were rejecting him. They had their own ideas about how God should work, and they didn’t want Jesus.
Now it is easy to condemn the Pharisees. But we must also be very careful that we don’t fall into the same pattern. It is easy for us to have our own ideas about how God should work and reject what God is doing. We may decide that God coming to us through the Means of Grace is just not exciting enough, and find it easy to stay home or do something else on Sunday morning.
We may decide that Jesus’ causes too many problems. Immediately after our text, the Lord says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Jesus Christ says that he comes first – before family, friends … even our own life.
The servant reported to the master what had happened. He was angry and said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Those who had been invited had rejected the master. So he told the servant to bring the very people you would not invite to a banquet. He had the servant bring in those whom society considered unworthy and of little value.
When the servant reported that this had been done and that there was still room, the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” The master sent the servant even further out to bring in those who didn’t even live in the city. He sent the servant to bring in people who would never have been invited.
We find ourselves in the description of the unworthy and unwanted who remarkably, get to attend the banquet. We are the poor and crippled and blind and lame. The people who should never be there in the first place. In fact as Gentiles we are actually the people outside the city – outside of Israel. Not only are we sinners in thought, word, and deed who have no right to be with the holy God, we were not even included in the covenant God made with Israel as he took them to be his people.
But in his unexpected grace, God has acted to make us people who will share in the feast of salvation. Earlier in this chapter, when Jesus described how guests should act at a meal, our Lord said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” We learn that Jesus is doing more than giving good advice about how to avoid embarrassment at a meal. Instead, he is describing a theological truth that begins with him as he acted to save us.
The Son of God humbled himself as he entered into our world in the incarnation to carry out the Father’s saving will for us. He came to serve us as he was numbered with the transgressors. St. Paul told the Philippians, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Jesus died on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins. He received the judgment we deserved. His dead body was buried in a tomb. But as Jesus says in this chapter, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.” And God did exalt Jesus. On the third day – on Easter – God raised Jesus from the dead. Peter declared on the Day of Pentecost, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” The risen Lord has defeated death. Ascended and exalted, he has poured forth the Holy Spirit who has called us to faith in Christ.
By his death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus has fulfilled God’s promises of the Old Testament. And in doing so, he has established the new covenant that includes all people – Jew and Gentile alike. Your sins are forgiven. You are now part of the people of God. You will partake in the great feast of salvation on the Last Day.
You know this is true for you because of what is about to take place next in the Divine Service. Our Lord invites us to the Sacrament of the Altar. Here he gives us his true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. As he does so, he shows that you are included in the new covenant – you are part of God’s people. And in this Sacrament we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. Our Lord comes to us now bodily using bread and wine. But in so doing he points us to his return in glory on the Last Day. We who are fed with the miraculous food of the Lord’s body and blood this morning will share in the feast of salvation that has no end.
This morning, our Gospel lesson warns us against ignoring or rejecting the way God works. It offers the comforting message that we who had no hope of being at the the feast of salvation, will be because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us. This has occurred purely by God’s grace. It is true because the Son of God humbled himself to save us, and now has been exalted.
And at the same time, what Jesus Christ has done for us is the pattern for our life in Christ. Our Lord said, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.” We follow Jesus by humbling ourselves in service toward others. We serve and help our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. We do so because of the love Christ has shown to us. We do so because we know that following Christ in the path of faith and service leads to exaltation with our Lord and the feast of salvation on the Last Day.