A Choice Parable
You know what a choice cut of meat is, a few choice words. Our text is a choice parable not only in the adjective sense of the word, high quality, but in the noun sense, the act of choosing. This is a parable about choosing, but Jesus is not giving instructions on how to choose seats or guests for a dinner. If you think He is, you produce Eddie Haskell's: "Yes, Mrs. Cleaver; No, Mrs. Cleaver. Give me the seat no one else wants, Mrs. Cleaver." Furthermore, you're missing the fact that the Holy Spirit says Jesus told them a parable. Just as the parable of the Sower is not about how to plant seeds and the parable of the Lost Coin is not about how to search for what you've lost, so this parable is not about how to choose seats or guests. It's about God and His choosing.
First God doesn't choose like we do. He doesn't choose the first but the last. Read your Old Testament. Repeatedly the Old Testament Church is told She was not the most righteous of all the nations but the least. She was not the best but the worst. Ezekiel likens Her to a child left to die by the side of the road whom God chooses to live. Hosea likens her to a faithless prostitute whom God chooses to wife. It's no different in the New Testament Church. Paul says, "Not many of you are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world.the weak things of the worldthe base things of the worldthe things that are not."
God doesn't choose like we do. He chooses what people shun. In the parable Jesus gives us a physical picture of the spiritual reality of His choices. He chooses the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. You don't see the spiritual implications of this till you realize that the people on Jesus' list are the very group that was forbidden the priesthood in the Old Testament Church. Leviticus 21 says, "No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the offerings made to the Lord by fire."
God not only chooses what people naturally shun and what is spiritually unfit, He chooses those who can't pay Him back. We don't choose that way not in earthly things or in heavenly. We have this constant debt to earning ratio running through all of our transactions. We really don't grow much beyond how we were in middle school. You didn't want to be found to be liking someone more than they liked you. You didn't want to invest more in a relationship than you were getting in return.
God doesn't choose like we do so much so that only a parable that sounds like Superman's Bizzaro world can convey how He chooses. This is because God chooses in grace not law. Now you think you've got it, don't you? Of course, it's grace. That's explains it. We can move on. Can we? In kid's confirmation class, I have entered the room and gave one child a dollar. He or she asks, "What's this for?" I say, "It's because of grace." From that moment on every child will offer a reason. The graced-child got a better grade; did their best; has a birthday; has brown eyes, etc. They never really get it; if there is any reason at all there is no grace.
Remember the context of this parable. Jesus' enemies had invited Him to a Sabbath meal and placed a crippled man right in front of Him, and then carefully watched what He would do. This is the last of the Sabbath healing disputes in Luke. In the first one in Luke 6, the scribes and Pharisees were carefully watching to see if Jesus would heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. He did, and they proceeded to plot how to kill Jesus. The meal with a Pharisee before this one was in Luke 11. Then Jesus confronted their legalism. They left the meal, "plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say." Do you get the dynamic? This is all a plot. Jesus' enemies have chosen who they thought shouldn't be invited to a meal, a man with dropsy, we'd say edema, a man, swollen and disfigured, to show that Jesus shouldn't be their either.
What was the Sabbath controversy all about? You know. It's in your own life. When you think you go to church for God's sake, when you think God has Divine Service so you can serve Him, when church is a gotta, a have to, a better, you're on the Pharisee side of the controversy. They believed God didn't want healing done on the Sabbath because the Sabbath was something man kept to please God. God created the Sabbath for His own sake not for the sake of fallen men. Jesus confronts them with the true purpose of the Sabbath by a physical picture. Without speaking a word Jesus takes hold of the misshapen man and serves him by healing him on God's Sabbath.
This choice parable is not about how we are to make choices for banquet seats or guest lists. This is a parable about how God makes choices, but as you know if it isn't ultimately about Jesus the Savior of sinners, the Friend of sinners, the Redeemer of sinners, then it really can't help us sinners. So, not only doesn't God choose like we do, not only does God choose in grace not law, but God chooses Jesus.
Who has been seated physically last at the meal in our text? Obviously the person who has the crippled man directly in front of Him: Jesus. Go to Luke 7 see how Jesus was treated when he dined with Pharisees. The ordinary courtesies of the day were dispensed with in Jesus' case. Not only weren't His feet washed by a servant of the house, but Jesus wasn't even given water to wash His own. Jesus wasn't given the customary, polite kiss of greeting that every guest got. Neither did He get oil; oil was used for personal grooming and normally only given to important guests. By pointing out that Simon the Pharisee didn't offer it to Him, Jesus indicates Simon should have known better. Jesus was disrespected; His every move was watched; His every word used against Him. Yet still Jesus comes to dine with sinners.
Jesus is in last place at this dinner, and Jesus is the blind and deaf one at this meal. Don't believe me? That's what the Old Testament prophesied the Christ, the Messiah would be. In Isaiah 42 where the Lord introduces His servant the Messiah He says, "Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but My Servant, and deaf like the Messenger I send? Who is blind like the One committed to Me, blind like the Servant of the Lord?" The rabbis had difficulty with this. They couldn't reconcile the Messiah who God promised would redeem and save them with the Messiah depicted as blind and deaf. Can you?
Sure you can if you're blind and deaf too. That's who the Lord addresses in Isaiah 42, "Hear, you deaf, look you blind." If you're in last place: if you are spiritually poor, crippled, lame, or blind you're invited to God's banquet. Think not? Read ahead in Luke 14. In parable of the Great Banquet, Jesus has God the King saying, "Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame." Only the poor in spirit can see the riches of a Jesus who has no money for taxes, no food, and no place to lay His head. Only those spiritually crippled by guilt, fear, or worry can see the fitness of s Savior so covered with their sins He can't see or hear. Only those blind can see that if Jesus didn't bear their spiritual blindness and pay for it they would never see heaven. Only the spiritually lame know that they are unable to come to God, so He must come to them.
God chose to come to us in Jesus. He chose Jesus to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. As true God He had perfect vision, as perfect Man He had perfect hearing. For our sakes, God loaded Jesus down with our obligations. Jesus kept them, but then was punished because we failed to. So harshly, sharply, and thoroughly was Jesus punished that His holy blood ran into His eyes blinding Him and His holy sweat filled His ears deafening Him. By living as we can't and dying as we deserve, Jesus who was last became first, and He won the right to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to dinner.
Jesus isn't at the dinner table in our text to teach the Pharisee who invited Him whom to invite to dinner or His fellow dinner guests how to choose seats. Jesus is at this dinner doing what He always does till the day of grace runs out. He's seeking the lost, seeking the poor, crimpled, lame and blind, seeking those who are in last place. God chooses what men do not and does far more with what men consider last, deformed, broken, and rejected than anyone thinks or even dreams.
Though Jesus has been rejected time and again at dinners just like the one in our text. Still He goes. Though Jesus is set up, dishonored, and rejected by the very ones He comes to save, Jesus still reaches out to them. He shows them how foreign their choosing is to God's, and how wrong they have been for rejecting His claims to be their God, Savior, and Lord just because He was so lowly. God had told them all along that He chose that their Redeemer would come in a lowly, humbled fashion in order to reach the lowly, the ungodly, the sickly. With the exception of the swollen man invited only to trap Jesus this was neither the host nor the guests at the table. Is it you?
The saving Jesus still comes in lowly ways in words that are not that profound, in water that looks plain ordinary, in bread and wine that is easy to distain. He comes to forgive sinners, to reborn sinners, to feed sinners with His Body and Blood. Jesus comes in lowly ways but remember today He is no longer last but first; He is no longer blind and deaf but all seeing and all hearing; He is no longer humbled but exalted. If in His humbled state, Jesus could and would heal a man at table with Him from a humiliating, harmful disease, what can't or won't He do at table in His exalted state? The choice is His; the benefit ours. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20100905); Luke 14: 1-14