You Don't Understand
It's amazing how many things parents don't understand according to their teenagers. Question a teen about a chore, a sibling fight, or a grade, and they begin the explanation with, "You don't understand." Parents never have the facts nor do they see them the right way to understand the teen's situation. That may or may not be true of the teens you know, but it's most definitely true of our Lord in this text.
You don't understand. The people who selected this reading left out 5 verses which explain why the Pharisees are carefully watching Jesus. A man suffering from edema, visibly bloated by water retention, sits in front of Jesus at the Sabbath day meal. Would Jesus heal on the Sabbath? Jesus had done so in the past. Now they dare Him to do so before plenty of witnesses. They carefully watch Jesus much as the baseball world had been watching Barry Bonds. Jesus answers their stares by blurting out the question that's on their minds: "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" The Pharisees refuse to answer. So Jesus answers for them and heals the man, and this time He does it in a way to make sure they would see Him violating their Sabbath. Jesus had healed before with just words. This time Jesus took hold of the man making it clear He was doing a work.
You need these facts because they show the Pharisees misunderstand God's heart. They believe God wants them to do things for Him. He gave them a Sabbath Law, so they could keep it for Him. God gave them a day of rest so they could please Him by not working. Jesus shows them that God at heart is merciful. He shows them God gave man the Sabbath for man's sake not His own. He gave them a day to physically rest without fear they would starve. A day to remind them of the rest He would provide in the Messiah. The Sabbath was a day on which God served man not man God.
You don't understand. You think the 3rd Commandment was given so you could keep it to please God. You think God is like the pagan gods always seeking someone to worship and serve Him. You think He is a god of law saying do this' and don't do that' whom you please and placate by obeying. That's why when I make a law saying you must be in church to be confirmed you are. That's why not long after confirmation you stop coming. To you sitting through sermons, attending Bible Classes, and going to communion are something you do for God, so you do just enough not to feel guilty.
You don't understand! In terms of the illustration Jesus uses, you've fallen into a well. God wants to rescue you through sermons, Bible class, and Communion, but you turn it all around. You think Sunday is a day when you jump into the well of boring sermons, deep Bible classes, and cold Communion to suffer awhile to please God!
The Pharisees misunderstand God's heart. This is the fact missing from our insert. God's way of looking at the Sabbath is opposite theirs. God's way of looking at everything is opposite theirs and ours too. That's why we have a hard time with the next part of this text about picking a place at a banquet. We think Jesus is issuing more laws about how to please Him.
You don't understand. If Jesus is teaching us how to be humble, why does it end with being honored? Does Jesus want us to go to banquets and purposely pick the last seat just so we can be asked to move up? Some Christians think that. They think Jesus is giving laws of exaltation. Law number 1 humble yourself. Law number 2 let God exalt you to be honored in the presence of your fellow guests.
You don't understand. Jesus words are a parable. The text says, "He told them this parable." Parables show spiritual truth by earthly stories. They aren't blueprints for living. Jesus didn't tell the parable of the lost coin to instruct us what to do when we lose something. He didn't tell us the pearl of great price to make us look for pearls in fields, and He didn't tell us this parable to teach us how to be humble, or how to choose a seat at a banquet!
Pay attention to the text. After correcting their legalistic view of God, Jesus notes how they picked places of honor at the table. Jesus says if you want to be exalted in this life, best let somebody else do it, so you won't risk humiliation. The point is this is not the way of the world. Barry Bonds would've been thought a fool if he had said, "I'll stop at 755 home runs." If your son tells you he is determined to strike out the most or make the most errors, you think something is wrong with him.
You don't understand. The world only chases number 1, but what does God do in the world? Where is Jesus seated at this banquet? Right across from the man disfigured by swelling. Do you think the Pharisees concerned with purity were anywhere near him? They picked places as far from him as they could, but not Jesus. Jesus isn't ashamed to be at table with this man, and he exalts him by healing him. The man hadn't asked or expected Jesus to do it. All of a sudden without a word from Jesus to him, the man finds himself healed. God exalts by grace not merit. He exalts freely, without reason, without making sense to us who think number 1 must be earned.
This is the controversy with Barry Bonds. Does he deserve to be exalted as the number 1 home run hitter? But God doesn't think like us. God exalts those who don't deserve it. God exalts people who hit 75 home runs, people who never hit a home run, people who strike out every time. And you really don't understand God's grace till you see that He exalts as home run hitters those who never lift a bat. That's because God only exalts for Jesus' sake. God exalts sinners because His sinless Son humbled Himself. God makes kings out of slaves because His Son went into the dungeon for them. God makes Hall of Fame hitters out of strike out kings because His Son not only hit home runs but bore the shame of countless strike outs. God exalts those who never lift a bat because He had His Son beaten to death by a bat in their place.
You don't understand. Our thoughts aren't God's thoughts. He thinks apples; we think oranges. We think works; He thinks grace. This is the point Jesus is trying to make to the Pharisees when He tells them whom to invite to banquets. They give banquets opposite the way God does. This will be clear to you if you read the rest of Luke 14. It ends with Jesus telling them a parable about God's banquet. Jesus says God invites the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. This is precisely the group the Pharisee didn't want at their banquets. The man with edema belonged to this class. He was a guest at the Pharisee's banquet only to trap Jesus.
"But wait a minute," a Pharisee could protest, "Doesn't the Law exclude this type of guest?" Leviticus 21 excludes anyone "who has any defect" mentioning the blind, lame, deformed, and crippled. So the Pharisees are right to exclude the defective. No, look carefully at Leviticus 21. It excludes a defective man from serving as a priest, but it doesn't exclude him from eating the Lord's food. It says, "He may eat the most holy food, yet because of his defect, he may not approach the altar."
A defective man couldn't be a priest representing God to the people but he could represent the people to God. That(s because defective people are exactly the kind of people God wants at His table! That's because God has a fear that we don't. You heard right; God has a fear we don't. God has a fear of being paid back. That's unnatural to us. We expect to be paid back. Our world works on the principle I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine.
You don't understand because we transfer what's true of our world into God's kingdom. We think God invites us to His banquet to fill us up so we can work for Him. God is like a slave owner who feeds His slaves well to get the most work out of them. But don't you see? Then the banquet of God is not for our benefit; it's only for His.
We do say in the catechism that it is our "duty to thank and praise Him, serve and obey Him," but this is not why God invites us to His banquet. He invites us for our sake not His. You are told at the Communion table: "Take eat, drink this is My Body and Blood given and shed for you." How are you dismissed? "Get out there and serve God better?" No, you're told: This Body and Blood is to strengthen and preserve you in faith for everlasting life. You come to the banquet to be served not to serve.
God has a fear of being paid back, and this can comfort you. If God is so afraid of being paid back that He never gives anything to anyone who can, then you do not have to worry or feel guilty because you can't. The fact you're in constant need before God, the fact you come here each Sunday expecting, wanting, asking things from God is okay. That's the way God likes it. He delights in doing things for His children even as we delight in doing things for ours. Moreover, even the fact that you fail and fall so many times into the well need not cause you to despair. God's delight is to reach to the bottom of the well and pull losers up. A God who never wants to be paid back surely looks in the bottom of the well first!
You don't understand; our banquets are not God's banquet. That's why as soon as Jesus finished speaking one of those at the table said to Jesus, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God." Why wasn't that man depressed and guilty over the strict instructions Jesus gave about humility and banquets? Because he understood Jesus wasn't teaching them how to attend or give banquets, but showing them how graciously different God's banquet is. He understood God gives a banquet opposite how people do, and that is indeed a great blessing for hungry sinners who know they can never repay God! Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XV (20070909); Luke 14: 1-15