Date: September 1, 2019 (Proper 17, 12th Sunday after Pentecost)
Text: Luke 14:1-14
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Exegetical Statement: In this parable, as the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus causes a great reversal of the Pharisees’ gross misunderstanding of the Sabbath through the healing of the man with dropsy. Jesus utterly reverses their cultural perception of the marginalised/ostracised/outcast. Instead of seeking honour for themselves, they are to humble themselves by both seeking the lowest place as well as associating with and inviting those they ostracise—such as the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the blame—rather than inviting whom they’d normally invite like family and friends. That is, associate with and invite people to meals—occasions of honour—who cannot repay you rather than with those who can. God will exalt those who humble themselves in this way and God will also reward them at the resurrection.
Focus Statement: As people of God’s kingdom, Jesus calls us to associate with the outcast since He became an outcast for us.
Function Statement: That my hearers will associate with those our society considers to be outcasts since Jesus became an outcast for them.
Sermon Hymn: #525 Crown Him with Many Crowns
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s a lot of discussion on what it means to keep the Sabbath holy. Does keeping the Sabbath holy mean exemption from all kinds of work, even something like pressing buttons on an elevator or using toilet paper? (Yes, that is a thing.) Or helping someone change a tire? Helping a sick person? Jesus here shows the Pharisees they’ve had it all wrong. They knew He was right because they were silent; they couldn’t refute Jesus. Jesus knows these very Pharisees have done “work” on the Sabbath.
“If your son or ox falls into a well on a Sabbath day,” Jesus says, “which one of you would not save them by pulling them out of the well?” No one answers because they know He’s right; they’ve all done this very thing. Jesus thus proves He is Lord of the Sabbath again by healing the man with dropsy on the Sabbath—that is, a man whose body was full of excess water that would’ve eventually killed him.
But let’s back up a little bit. Let’s talk about the setting where this takes place.
The setting is a Sabbath meal. As such, Jesus does what is expected of a rabbi at a Sabbath meal: He teaches. This is actually the fourth time Jesus has said and done something extravagant on a Sabbath day or regular meal with a Pharisee. They’ve experienced three times already Jesus’ “unorthodox” teaching and miracle acts on the Sabbath days and meals with them.
The first time, on a Sabbath day, Jesus made His bold claim as Lord of the Sabbath and proved it by healing a man with a withered hand [6:1-11]. The second time, when dining with Simon the Pharisee, Jesus allows a sinful woman to touch Him and anoint His feet with alabaster, and Jesus forgives her sins, an act belonging to Yahweh alone [7:36-50]. The third time, Jesus didn’t do any ritual washing when He was invited to a meal at a Pharisee’s home, making the bold claim that everything is clean for them [11:37-54].
So, it is no wonder why the Pharisees were watching Him closely! At this point, Jesus is already known for being controversial on Sabbath days and during meals with Pharisees. Now, in this setting, we have a Sabbath day and a meal at the same time during a wedding feast. So, Jesus was bound to say something controversial, and boy does He deliver!
Trouble in the Text
Not only were the Pharisees watching Jesus closely, but He was also watching the Pharisees closely, for He noticed they were choosing places of honour for themselves. As a result, Jesus gives them some stern Law; there is no Gospel in this text. Now, in order to understand what’s happening in this text, we have to understand the Jewish-Roman culture at this time.
The Pharisees cared a lot about purity, cleanliness, and holiness, especially when it came to food. Yet not in a removal of dirt sense, but in a theological sense of purity. At this time, meals are where the status quo is recognised, not where you make changes. Jesus completely overturns the way of relating to people and relating to God.
Jesus is essentially saying: Do not relate to one another in terms of your social status, but simply relate to one another according to the way of God. If you put yourself in a low place, worry about God lifting you up; if you put yourself in a high place, worry about God bringing you down. Be content with your proper place—go to the lowest seat and wait for God’s exaltation. Do not assume your place is higher than somebody else’s. Do not invite others over according to what they’ll pay you in social interest. Instead, associate with and invite those who cannot repay you in social interest—the social outcasts.
For the Pharisees, the outcasts Jesus lists—the poor, crippled, lame, and blind—were ritually unclean people. They do not belong at the meal, but Jesus tells them to go to their lowest place and be with them, and God will reward them by exalting them at the resurrection, which the Pharisees did believe in, by the way. So, they should’ve taken these words seriously.
Trouble in the World
So, we have here four commands, or two tables of commands. The first table: (1) Do not seek honour for yourself lest you become embarrassed, but (2) seek the lowest place so that you may be exalted. And the second table: (3) Do not solely associate with those who can pay you back in social interest, but (4) seek the lowest place of these social outcasts and associate with them. What does this mean for you and me? Quite a lot, actually.
The first table has to do with seeking the low place of humility over the high place of honour in a general sense—that is, how we relate to God. The second table has to do with seeking the low place among social outcasts over the high place of those who can pay us back with social interest—that is, how we relate to others. These two tables, then, mirror the two tables of the Ten Commandments: the first table being commandments 1-3 of how we relate to God and the second table being commandments 4-10 of how we relate to others.
Let’s talk about the first table: seeking the low place of humility over the high place of honour in the general sense. This can be characterised as attention seeking, glory seeking, or self-centredness. Here, Jesus is speaking on the natural order of things. If you seek a place of honour, He says, you’ll eventually get embarrassed—your position will be lowered. If you seek a place of humility, however, you will naturally be exalted for your humbleness. Both of these—the lowering and the exalting—are God’s doing.
This command, of course, can be abused. You cannot fool God by saying, “Well then I’ll just humble myself so He’ll have to exalt me.” Sorry, that’s not how this works; you can’t fool God. You can’t fool God by pretending to be humble any more than you can fool a wall by pretending to be a door. So, how do we know our search for a lowly position is godly and not a selfish attempt to fool Him? Well, what is the desire of your heart?
I’ll use myself as an example. For a long time, I had suffered with the desire of receiving recognition, particularly with my musical talent. I watched many friends who were fellow saxophonists get exalted, praised, and honoured over me. I was always better than them, and through their own musical training they either got to my level or even better than me and I watched them get praised over me.
This made me really upset, even jealous. I desired so much to be praised for my efforts and receive high recognition for my talent. I sought it out constantly. I never got that recognition. I was forced to accept my position. God lowered my pride and I was forced to accept cessation of seeking praise and honour. I became embarrassed in my pride and was forced to accept my lack of recognition.
I even suffered with this rather recently. I’ve always been the ambitious one out of my two siblings. It probably has something to do with being the middle child. I enlisted in the Army, I left for college to get my bachelor’s degree, and I progressed to seminary to acquire my Masters of Divinity. During what will be 8 years of pre-seminary and seminary studies, I developed the desire to acquire a Masters of Sacred Theology (or STM) and later on a Ph.D. But—to confess my sin here—I desired such academic achievements not for the benefit of God’s people, but for praise, honour, and recognition among my peers, just like I never received in high school.
Once again, I faced embarrassment. God lowered me from my pride and forced me to a lower position. Now, through the natural order of God lowering me, all I desire is a lowly position. I no longer desire an STM or Ph.D. for the sake of being praised and honoured. In fact, I no longer desire those things (and who knows, I might desire them for right reasons in the future). All I desire now is to be a simple pastor in the future who loves his people, cares for his flock, and associates with all people, even outcasts—people others do not like. I haven’t experienced any exaltation yet. Neither do I desire it. I will experience the exaltation of the resurrection because of its promise in my Baptism, but right now, I simply desire to be a vicar and eventual pastor who lives life with God’s people.
So, what is your desire? What are your desires? Why do you desire them? For love of self or for love of others? If it’s for love of self, you will get embarrassed, and you will be forced to lower your pride. Trust me. If it’s for love of others, keep doing just that. God will reward you and exalt you. How? Aside from the resurrection promised in Baptism, in this life right now? I have no idea. But the promise is there.
This first table of seeking humility over honour in our relation to God is deeply related to the second table of our relation to others, particularly the outcasts of society. The Pharisees had their own outcasts in their culture: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Today, we have our own outcasts: the poor as well, addicts, kids who are bullied, even the LGBT community.
To associate and dine with them is not to approve their sin; it is simply to love them, and we are called to love them. Our call to love others is not to approve their sin or their seemingly helpless condition, but to walk alongside them and suffer with them and speak and do the love of Jesus to them. This love of Jesus does not approve such sins; it simply walks and suffers with them, calls them to repentance, and brings them to trust in the Gospel. These marginalised—these outcasts—are the type of people Jesus calls us to associate with, not those whom we would normally associate with. We think we’re better than poor people, addicts, the bullied, and LGBT people, but we only embarrass ourselves in the end because we’re no different than they are.
“Do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours,” Jesus says. So, for your Labour Day cookout, you have every reason not to invite your mother-in-law! (Ha ha, no, I’m just kidding. Invite her.) All joking aside, Jesus is not giving mere practical wisdom here; He is completely turning the tables on the Pharisees.
Meals were a highly social event in Roman culture at this time. Meals were the time to invite everyone you knew, especially people who would make you look good just for being present, and with whom you could push forward your personal (or political) agenda. The aim was to increase your honour. But, Jesus says, do not seek such honour. Don’t even invite the people you’d normally invite whose presence and association would increase your honour. Instead, invite the poor, the lame, the blind, the crippled—the unclean people, the social outcasts.
The same goes for us. Go to the homeless person. Buy him lunch or dinner. Even dine with him. Go to the addict; help her toward sobriety. Suffer alongside her. Go to the LGBT person; refrain from preaching the Law to them because chances are, they’ve already heard it tons of times. Be their friend, tell them about the Gospel to bring them to repentance and to trust in Jesus’ promise to forgive their sins.
Go to the kid at school who’s bullied. Be their friend, stand up for them, even if it means you lose your popularity or have no chance at becoming popular. Invite your mother-in-law to that cookout, or whoever else in your family might be the outcast.
All this is what it looks like to love your neighbour, specifically the social outcast. And why shouldn’t we love the social outcast? Jesus became an outcast for you.
Jesus the Outcast (Grace in the World)
Just before this wedding feast, in 13:34 Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Jerusalem’s killing of the prophet is exactly what would happen to Jesus. Jesus became an outcast not only in His life, but also in His death.
In His life, Jesus touched lepers, paralytics, the demon possessed, and dead people and many others who were considered unclean—that is, people who were social outcasts. In His life, Jesus became an outcast with these outcasts. In His death, Jesus became the ultimate outcast for you and me.
In His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the people shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” And it would be these same people who would later demand, “Crucify Him!” and cast Him outside the walls of Jerusalem to be crucified. Isaiah describes this Outcast, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” [53:3].
Everybody rejected Jesus. Not just the Jews and all Jerusalem, but even His own disciples rejected Him. Even we rejected Him. No one wanted to be associated with this alleged blasphemer. Jesus was utterly alone.
And this was Jesus’ own choosing. Upon His heavenly throne, Jesus was beside God the Father with the Holy Spirit, with His company of angels, and He chose to step down from that gregarious throne and be born a human baby, knowing He would be totally ostracised from everyone—the very people He came to serve and love and die for.
Even God the Father abandoned Him. Upon the cross He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”—a fulfilment of Psalm 22—the Son of David using the very words of King David. Jesus’ fulfilment of this question is more of a rhetorical question; He knew why the Father abandoned Him. He abandoned Him for your sake.
And what a painful abandonment! Not just the insurmountable pain Jesus suffered in His torture and crucifixion, but especially the pain of facing the Father’s abandonment—to be utterly severed from communion with God. That is Hell, not to mention its eternal fires. No pain can compare to this pain Jesus suffered away from the Father. Jesus suffered Hell for you—total separation from God, totally outcast from God. Instead of you becoming an outcast from God, Jesus became that outcast for you.
Yet the Outcast was raised from the dead. God the Father chose to abandon His only Son for your sake, yet He also vindicated His Son by raising Him from the dead. And it is this vindication, Paul says in Romans 6, that we now share with Jesus by virtue of our Baptism. In Baptism, you are no longer outcasts from God; you now belong exclusively to God the Father.
No longer outcasts from God, therefore, let us also go and love the outcasts in our world. Let us not seek honour. Let us rather go to their low places and show them the love of Jesus who became an outcast for them just as He became an outcast for you and me and promises the exaltation of the resurrection.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.