Sunday, October 9, 2022

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 14:1-11


Trinity 17

                                                                                       Lk 14:1-11



          Meals were viewed very differently in the ancient world than they are today.  First, the very act of choosing to eat with someone – to share in a meal with them - was an act of social significance.  IT indicated you accepted that person.  You considered them worthy to be in your presence and that you were willing to interact with them.

          Yet the fact people shared in a meal together did not in any way mean that everyone there was considered equal.  The ancient world had a highly developed sense of social honor and ranking.  And this fact was demonstrated in the way that people were seated.  Those sitting closest to the host were accorded the most honor – they mattered the most.  The farther away from the host you were seated, the less important you were.  Certainly, no one wanted to be seated in the last place at the table!

          And while it sounds almost comical to us, this led to a competition to see who could get a higher place in the seating. This fact was widely recognized by all.  You hear it in our Old Testament reading from Proverbs where the advice is given: “Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”

          Everybody understood that this is how things worked. The early second century Platonic philosopher Plutarch criticized the practice as he wrote: “When we have taken our places … we ought not to try to discover who has been placed above us, but rather how we may be thoroughly agreeable to those placed with us … For, in every case, a man that objects to his place at the table is objecting to his neighbor rather than to his host, and he makes himself hateful to both.” I bet you weren’t expecting to hear from Plutarch in the sermon this morning – but there you go. That’s exactly how things worked.

          Now in the Gospels – and it is especially emphasized in Luke’s Gospel – we find a very odd dynamic at work.  On the one hand the Pharisees were the enemies of Jesus. They were completely opposed to him.  And on the other hand, again and again they were hosting Jesus at their meals. So, our text this morning begins with the words: “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.”

          Here a leader of the Pharisees is hosting Jesus at a meal.  Why would he and the Pharisees do this?  There were surely two reasons.  First, Jesus was a religious celebrity.  Here was an individual who worked miracles and whose teaching captivated thousands.  Having Jesus eat at your table made you look good.

          And second, this was clearly an example of “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” As we hear, they were watching Jesus carefully.  These meals were an opportunity to hear Jesus say something that could be used against him.

          However, we learn in our text that Jesus was also watching the Pharisees.  He noticed how they were seeking the places of honor – how they were acting in the way that people normally did at meal settings such as this. And so we learn that Jesus told a parable to those who had been invited and were engaged in this behavior. Now when we hear the word “parable,” we expect to hear a story.  However, the term had a much broader meaning than that in first century Judaism, and so what Jesus gives is a piece of advice that is illustrated by a description of what happens.

          Jesus said, “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.”  The opposite of honor was shame. The ancient world operated on the basis of these categories.   A person sought honor in the sight of others, and avoided shame in every way possible.

          Our Lord warned against seeking the place of honor, because doing so could result in shame.  Instead, he gave the instruction, “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.”  Note that Jesus doesn’t say, “Take a lower place.”  His advice is not that a person try to gauge his honor, and choose a lower spot in the hopes that then he will be invited to move up.  Instead, he says “sit in the lowest place,” or more literally, “sit in the last place.”

Then Jesus added, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  It is in this statement that we begin to recognize that Jesus is not really talking about meal etiquette.  Instead, he is speaking about how life is lived in the kingdom of God. He is talking about how life that has received God’s saving reign acts.

Jesus says this because he brought God’s saving reign by humbling himself.  St. Paul put it this way when he 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.”

The Son of God entered into this world in the incarnation as the Word became flesh. But this was not the humbling, for God himself had declared humanity to be very good in the beginning.  Instead, the humbling was that Jesus Christ did not use his powers to serve himself.  The humbling was the fact that he took on the role of a servant, the suffering Servant whom Isaiah had prophesied.  He humbled himself to the point of death – even the shameful death of death on the cross.

Paul says that our Lord Jesus was obedient to the point of death.  The Son of God was obedient to the Father’s will.  Isaiah said about the Servant, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” By humbling himself to the point of the shameful death on the cross, Christ has freed us from sin and made us holy before God.

The Son of God humbled himself. But in our text today he also says, “and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  The apostle Paul went on to tell the Philippians, Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The Father exalted Jesus when he raised him from the dead on the third day.  The humiliation of the cross was not the final word. The sealed tomb was not the final word.  Instead, God’s saving word sounded forth as the risen Lord appeared in the locked room on the evening of Easter and said, “Peace to you!”

Nor was the resurrection the end of God’s exalting work.  Forty days after he rose from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven.  Fifty days later, after the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples at Pentecost, Peter told the crowd, “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.”

Jesus humbled himself, and then was exalted as he defeated death.  Because he has done this, we can now face our sin and confess it in humble repentance.  We can do so knowing that we will be exalted in forgiveness.  As Jesus said about the repentant tax collector in comparison to the self-righteous Pharisee: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The first century Greco-Roman world considered humility to be vice, rather than a virtue.  Perhaps it would be going too far to say that our world feels the same way. But you wouldn’t be off by much.  Our world glorifies those who exalt themselves in sports, entertainment, and so many other areas of life. Humility is not something that our world holds up as a characteristic that should be fostered and emulated.

However, as we see in Christ, God’s way is different.  Mary said about God, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.”  In our text Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is what Jesus Christ did for us in order to give us forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.  The risen and exalted Lord has given us the Holy Spirit who has called us to faith. Through baptism we have become a new creation in Christ. Born again of water and the Spirit, the new man now seeks to follow in the way of our Lord.

We humble ourselves in service toward others, just as Christ humbled himself to serve and save us. We put the needs of our spouse, children, parents, and friends ahead of our own.  We serve and help others in the different vocations where God has placed us.  In doing so, we become the means by which God acts to care for those whom he has placed in our life.

Led and enabled by the Spirit, we do this because we believe in Jesus Christ.  We humble ourselves, confident that in Christ the way of humility leads to exaltation.  He humbled himself to the point of death – even death on a cross – in order to save us. But on the third day God raised him from the dead, and then the Father exalted Christ in his ascension.  Because of this, we know that the way of faith – the way of humble service in Christ - leads to resurrection life with our Lord. As Christ says today, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
















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