18th Sunday after Pentecost October 13, 2019
2, 421, 441, 45
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely.
And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. “But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (NIV-84)
The banquet room is ready when you arrive early. The circular tables are neatly decorated. The silverware is shiny and perfectly placed. The floral centerpieces are a beautifully arranged. You’ve arrived at the reception early in hopes of getting a good seat after the wedding. While there are name tags at the head table for the wedding party, it seems the rest is open seating. You make your way to an open spot right in front of the head table. You want to be close because you know the bride and groom so well. After all, you’re the one who first suggested they date each other because they seemed so perfect for each other. If it weren’t for you this wedding day wouldn’t be happening.
While you wait for the wedding party to arrive, the banquet hall begins to fill up. Nearly every table is taken. Soon drinks are being served as well as rolls and a salad. “This is perfect,” you think, “I’m right where I want to be for this special day.”
But once the wedding party arrives you are told that the bride and groom wanted someone else to sit at this table. And so in front of everyone, you have to pick up your half-eaten salad plate, your silverware, and your drink, and with everyone watching you weave your way through the tables and chairs, only to catch your foot on one of the legs of the chair, stumbling your plate, silverware and drink glass fall to the ground shattering. Now everyone is watching you instead of the bride and groom. You are taken to the last table available—in the very back of the banquet hall, back by all the noisy kids, back by the door to the kitchen which swings open and hits your chair every time a server goes in or out. While you thought you deserved a seat of honor on this special day, you are instead put in a chair of humiliation.
As Jesus is at a dinner party at the home of an important Pharisee, he noticed how the guests scrambled to get the best seats at the dinner table. Each of them wanted to be seen as someone great, someone that deserved a special seat—a seat of honor. One commentator noted how the Pharisees were even pharisaical among other Pharisees, each thinking they were greater than the next.
Seeing this sight prompted Jesus to tell His parable. But the heart of this parable is not seating arrangements for a banquet. After all, someone could have an extremely prideful heart about their false-humility as they sat in the back. No, as always, Jesus has a deeper, heavenly truth He wants to impress on His listeners—a deeper, heavenly truth He wants to impress on us. A truth about our attitude and state of mind. He summarizes it in verse 11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is a lesson on sinful pride and humility.
There is a story of a pastor who visited the hospital bed of a man near death. Knowing the time was short, the pastor cut to the chase: “Palmer,” he said, “your time on this earth is nearly over. Are you ready to stand before the judgment seat of God?” After thinking about it for a minute, Palmer answered, “Why, yes, I think I am.” When the pastor asked why, Palmer went on to list all sorts of people and racial groups he thought were worse than him. Palmer thought he deserved a seat at the table in God’s Kingdom.
This shouldn’t surprise us though, because we see the same kind of attitude at work in us from early on. Given the choice, children usually want the biggest piece of cake because they think they deserve it. We think we deserve that raise instead of that other worker as well as the employee of the month award. We believe deserve recognition in front of others and are offended when we don’t. We deserve that seat of honor.
Palmer thought he surely deserved a seat in heaven—what about you?
In our parable, Jesus speaks of someone more distinguished than us arriving and us being forced to move. This is what happens when God’s Law comes along and silences us. The Law speaks to us demanding that we love God with ALL of our heart, with ALL of our soul, and with ALL of our strength. As we see our failures in giving God our ALL, we are forced to move down from our seat of honor. The Law comes and says we are to love our neighbor, even our enemy as ourselves—and we are forced to move down. The Law condemns us as adulterers if we look with lust on another woman, condemns us for our unloving words, condemns us for our lies—and we are forced to move down.
We thought we deserved a seat of honor in front of everyone, but something more distinguished than us arrived and forced us to move down—God’s holy Law. The Law doesn’t just force us to the back table in God’s Kingdom, the Law forces us out of the kitchen, and into the dumpster as we see just how far we have fallen from the glory of God. “Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.”
The Law humbles us as we see, as Luther says, that we are all just beggars—spiritually poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And so, rather than expecting the best seat in the house, we realize we don’t even deserve to be invited into God’s Kingdom. Rather than pridefully thanking God that we are not like other men, we are in the back, with our face to the ground, beating our chest, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
As we sit humbled by the Law and our failures, who is it that should come to the back alley, the dumpster of our sin? It is the Bridegroom Himself—the very One who is the focus of the feast! You know His name. It is Jesus. Jesus who though He was God and Lord of all, was willing to humble Himself and take on the form of a servant.
The Bridegroom comes and offers to take your place in the trash-heap of your sin as He bears your sin on the cross. Through faith and in your baptism, He gives you the perfect garments of His own holiness and perfection. He then invites you up. “Friend,” He says, “move up to a better place.”
This is our Savior Jesus. Though He was Lord over all, He became servant of all. Though He had everything, He became nothing to give you His everything. To the humble, repentant believer, Jesus will say at His return on Judgment Day, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) By grace, He invites you to the wedding feast of the Lamb—a feast that He has prepared you for by His death and resurrection. We unworthy sinners have been invited up!
Having been invited up, who then can we invite up?
I understand that we have some prominent players and coaches from the Minnesota Vikings living not too far from us here at Berea. So, how would you react if one day a player joined us for services and asked about becoming a member? Wouldn’t that be exciting? Wouldn’t you tell your friends about it? “So-and-so goes to my church?” However, what if a local homeless man came to services and wanted to become a member? Would you feel the same? Having a professional football player would get us some notoriety, we would get no publicity for having the homeless here.
With that in mind, listen to what Jesus now says to the host of this dinner, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Once again, Jesus is not addressing a guest list saying you can’t have family dinner after church today. Once again, Jesus is addressing attitude. The host of this dinner party wanted to be noticed for the “who’s-who” on his guest list.
Who is on our guest list? Who do we want to be seen with? Who do we want to invite to our congregation? Knowing the lengths the Bridegroom, the very Son of God, went in humbling Himself to become your Savior, when He knew you could do nothing to repay Him, may we be willing to associate with the humble, lowly and despised. By inviting, associating with, and caring for the “poor, crippled, lame, and blind” we are dealing with people who gain us no notoriety with the world. Paul writes of this in Philippians 2 (v.3 & 5), “in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Going on to say, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” In humbleness of mind, let us be willing to invite others up, even as the Son of God humbled Himself to invite us up to be with Him.
When in humble faith we associate with the lowly and despised, and in Christian love care for them as Christ cared for us, we are really serving Jesus. When the Bridegroom returns on the Last Day and invites us to come inherit the kingdom, He will point to the fruits of our faith, the evidence of our faith at work, and say, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” This is the humble faith of the Christian that has been invited up and wants to invite others to the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) May the Holy Spirit grant us just such a humble faith through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked “NIV-84” are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.