The 16th Sunday After Pentecost September 20, 2009
24, 411, 442, 400
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now it happened, as [Jesus] went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely…So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
In the name of Jesus, whose humility is our salvation and example, dear fellow Christians:
It has been off the air for quite some time, but there was a TV commercial which can still make me smile just thinking about it. It starred Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker. It showed him at the ballpark settling into a prime box seat and all the while he is expounding on how the fans love him and that his great seat is just a small token of their esteem. However, he is then told in no uncertain terms that he is in the wrong seat. Undaunted, his comment is: “Oh, I must be in the front row!” The spot ends by showing Bob all alone in a bleacher seat in the back row of the stadium’s nosebleed section.
It’s funny because despite the exaggeration there is a kernel of truth to the scene. Pride gives people an inflated view of themselves and distorts their sense of reality. We know people like that. We ourselves have been those people. We can come to think that my needs and wants are most important. My happiness is the priority. I deserve more things and better treatment than others. My opinions and ways of doing things are obviously the right ones. Life is all about me! That mindset is admired by the world and seen as a strength. It is regarded as a key to success while humility is perceived as a wimpy kind of weakness. But Jesus turns that thinking upside down and shows us that it’s not about me.
Some of the proudest people during Jesus’ ministry were the Pharisees. Their name means “separated ones.” They believed they stood head and shoulders above everyone else, first of all because of their physical descent from Abraham, and then also because of their strict keeping of all the religious laws and rituals. Jesus was invited to a dinner hosted by a prominent Pharisee, but it was not done out of respect for the Lord. It was more like a trap. He was being watched for any little misstep or ill chosen word which could be used against Him.
Jesus also was watching. He saw how the guests tried to maneuver themselves into the best places at the table. Each one wanted the prestige of being closest to the host at the head of the table. Each one felt he deserved it. Each one came with the attitude “It’s all about me!”
The problem with pride is that it leads to a fall. Proverbs says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Jesus warned the dinner guests that they risked having the host come and tell them to give up their place to someone more honorable than they. Then red-faced and ashamed they would have to move down the table. It makes good practical sense, but Jesus was doing more than dispensing advice regarding dinner etiquette. This is a parable, an earthly story with a spiritual lesson, about eating at God’s table in His Kingdom. The Pharisees believed that they already had the best seats reserved. They were God’s favorites. They had earned it. But their pride had blinded them to reality. They were actually in grave danger of being completely locked out of the heavenly feast. They were not more worthy than others. Jesus told them they were like whitewashed tombs which look clean and pure on the outside but are full of death and decay within. He said, “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:20).
“It’s all about me” leads to celebrities believing they are above the law until they are arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail time. It makes athletes feel they are invincible until an injury abruptly ends their career. “It’s all about me” causes us to push to the front of the line, to decide what everyone else should watch on TV, to look down on someone less knowledgeable about Scripture or who is not as active in church work as we are. Pride says, “My time is too valuable and my abilities too important for me to do ordinary, mundane chores. Someone else should do them. “It’s all about me” finally leads to the conclusion that I am the one who knows what is best for me, and God must surely be happier with me than with most people.
Don’t believe it! The Apostle Paul writes: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3 NIV). Rather than become intoxicated by breathing the fumes of pride, sober up and look at the reality. We have nothing of which to boast. We are no better than anyone else. “God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:2-3 NIV). If we try to take a place at God’s table on the basis of our own goodness and accomplishments, we won’t even get a foot in the door. Jesus will say, “I never knew you. Depart from me!” “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” [v.11]
But then the Lord adds: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” The one who humbly comes and takes the lowest place will be told by the host: “Friend, go up higher.” That is what God does in His kingdom. He resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble through Jesus. Life is not all about me, but about God’s Son. He is almighty God deserving of all glory, and yet He humbled Himself and made Himself the lowest of the low. He came to live on this corrupt earth. He came to identify with ordinary sinners like us. The Creator of all things washed 24 grimy feet. He took it patiently, like a lamb at slaughter, while puny, miserable men mocked Him, spit in His holy face, and nailed His hands and feet to a cross.
It is not about you and me! Look at Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith. It is His righteousness which admits us to God’s dinner table. It is His blood which makes us clean. It is He who gives us a whole new attitude: “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…He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5ff. ESV).
Why do you say the things you do? What motivates your actions toward others? An attitude of “It’s all about me” uses others for one’s own benefit, but Christ-like humility born at the foot of the cross has a much different agenda. The big dinners of the Pharisees were a matter of pride. The lavish tables loaded with food made the host look generous, and the exclusive guest list made him look very holy and discerning. That is why Jesus was condemned for eating with just anybody—even tax collectors and “sinners.” In addition, the host of the dinner could expect that his guests would reciprocate and invite him to their dinners. What could be better?
But Jesus was not impressed. “If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?” He asked. “Rather,” He told His host, “invite the poor, maimed, lame, and blind.” [v.13] Jesus Himself is the perfect example of this approach. There was no person so repulsive that He would not speak to him and offer the lifeline of forgiveness. There was no disease so hopeless that He could not heal with just a word. There was no problem so overwhelming that He could not solve it. He took us in when we were alone, helpless, dead in sin, and His enemies. He still tells us, no matter what we have done to offend Him or hurt others, “Come to me. I won’t turn you away. A broken and contrite heart, I will not despise.” (cf. Psalm 51:17).
With Jesus’ love and forgiveness He creates a new heart which sees others as precious souls and opportunities for Christian service, rather than as people to be used for one’s own benefit. It is not about me, but about serving the Lord in serving others. One author called it “self-forgetfulness…being so sure of who you are in Christ that you’re not worried about self and concerned about getting your due.” Peter puts it this way: “All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5 NIV). Paul writes: “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24). “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 ESV).
Recognize your sinful pride. Confess the damage it has done. Look to the Lord for the peace of forgiveness and the strength to speak and act for the well-being of others. Don’t think, “How can this person pay me back for the good I do to him?” but “How may this person be blessed by what I do?” We have eternal riches which can never run out, so we can afford to be generous. Don’t hesitate. Roll up your sleeves and jump in with both feet! Tackle the messy chores at home everyone dreads instead of thinking that the work is beneath you. When you see a door to hold open, a package to carry, a kind word to speak, a drooping spirit to lift up, a lonely heart to befriend, a guilty conscience to ease, a lost soul to point to the Good Shepherd, do it with a prayer of thanks to the One who came to serve and sacrifice His life for us.
They may not be able to repay you, but Jesus says, “Don’t worry, a reward is coming, for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [cf. v.14] It is a reward of pure grace for we know that all we have earned is the wages of sin. Yet in His mercy the Lord sees the believer’s works as pleasing evidence of saving faith. On the Last Day He will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34-36 NIV).
Thankfully, it is not all about me! Our lives now and our eternal future are centered on our Lord and Savior. He has rescued us from our bloated, self-centered pride, and has ushered us to front row seats and places of honor at His heavenly table. It’s all about Jesus! Amen.
Grant us hearts, dear Lord, to yield Thee
Gladly, freely, of Thine own;
With the sunshine of Thy goodness
Melt our thankless hearts of stone
Till our cold and selfish natures,
Warmed by Thee, at length believe
That more happy and more blessed
’Tis to give than to receive.
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