The text opens with Jesus being watched carefully while a dinner guest at the home of a prominent Pharisee. They were wise to watch Jesus carefully. Every word He spoke; every deed He did has meaning. In the end, did they watch carefully enough? How about you?
Watch carefully as Jesus turns seating edict into a lesson on the power of true humility. As they watched Jesus, He watched them as they picked the best seats at the risk of being humiliated. It's surprising that they did this for these Pharisees surely knew our Old Testament Lesson "Do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, "Come up here," than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman."
Their own Rabbis offered this same advice. Yet here they were picking the best seats knowing full well the more important guests always came in later and would displace them. Ever thought an honor was for you and wasn't? Stood up to receive an award that went to someone else? Thought they wanted you in a picture and they didn't? Such humbling is what Jesus' fellow dinners were willing to risk for a prominent seat at a dinner.
The worldly answer to this would be taking a lower seat, so you would be asked to come up higher. Do you think Jesus' recommends such feigned humility? Watch carefully as Jesus, according to the text, tells them a parable. In a parable seed, sheep, maiden, coin, vineyard stand for something else. If you don't get that, then you don't get parables. Here choosing seats stands for something else. The parable doesn't instruct men how to choose seats but how God does things radically different in His world then men do in theirs.
You'd have a better chance of seeing this if verses 2-6 weren't removed from the Gospel reading. There we find that the Pharisee had seated Jesus across from a man whose body was swelled with fluid. Think Elephant Man. Think disfigurement. Think unappetizing. Think ceremonially unclean. Most people think he did this to Jesus to see if He would heal on the Sabbath day. No, he did it to humiliate Jesus.
The Pharisee chose the most disgusting seat to humiliate Jesus, but Jesus did with humility what God does with it. He exalted it. From that low seat He used His divine powers as a humiliated Man to heal a misshapen one. Remember even apart from this humiliation of Him, His Father sent Him into the world in a humbling way. Incarnate in a virgin's womb, born into a lowly carpenter's home. Remember how they scorned His birth and looked down on His upbringing? Even a disciple said, "Can anything good come out Nazareth?" And the Pharisees said that no prophet came from Galilee.
This humiliation was done for us and our salvation. In order to fulfill the Law in our place, in order to suffer all the punishments our breaking of it deserves, Jesus had to voluntarily not use His Divine power as a Man. If He didn't keep His lowly place, He couldn't be under any of God's laws for as God all He did would be right, and He wouldn't be able to suffer to pay for sins because when hungry, birds would have fed Him like they did Elijah, and when thirsty, water would have come from rocks as it did for Moses. And who could whip, beat, and crucify God if God didn't let them?
Watch carefully as Jesus turns true humility into divine power and watch carefully as Jesus turns human generosity into poverty and human poverty into divine riches. Remember Jesus is still speaking a parable. Jesus can not be promoting feigned generosity anymore than He can be promoting feigned humility. He's again turning their understanding of these things on its head.
They gave in order to get. If you don't recognize that this is still common among sinful men, then you don't watch carefully Christmas commercials or appeals to help. How much Christmas giving is promoted by saying "and you'll go home with something for yourself?" How many appeals to help have the tag, "And most of all you'll be changed, feel better, good, etc." And you will, and buying one 50 dollar gift card will get you a 10 dollar one for yourself. But whatever your reward is in this life that will be it. If you sow your riches in this life for the purpose of reaping a reward here, you won't be disappointed; you'll get one, but that's all you'll get.
You can't get Jesus' parable without reading ahead. In verse 21 you'll find that the ones God invites to His banquet are exactly the ones Jesus names in the parable. Jesus has the Master of the house commanding, "'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'" In our text, though the insert puts them in, the Greek doesn't have the definite article at all with those to be invited. Jesus just says, "Invite poor, crippled, lame, blind." But in verse 21 each of the four have the definite article "the." This is the Greek way of saying that the poor, crippled, blind and lame mentioned in our text are the same group God invites to His the heavenly banquet.
Watch carefully. The only person at this dinner party that fits the twice mentioned categories is the disfigured man they had sat across from Jesus to humiliate Him. But such are the ones Jesus came into the world in such a humble way to rescue, to save. Jesus says elsewhere, "The healthy have no need of a Physician." But don't think physical health. It's a parable. Think spiritual health. God spends the rich blood, sweat, tears, pain and death of His Son to redeem the spiritually sick, the sinfully disfigured, the morally broken. The ones men are unwilling to spend anything at all on are the ones God spent His only beloved Son completely for.
This is the group that no Pharisee in the world wants to be a part of. Not so fast there. One of them got the parable; understood Jesus wasn't giving instructions for attending or giving banquets. We know this because the verse after our text says, "When one of those at the table with Him heard this, he said to Jesus, Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.'" So apparently this person had been watching Jesus very carefully? How about you?
Did you catch that though Jesus is at a dinner He sets His parable at a wedding and asks us to put ourselves in the place of one invited? Why a wedding of all things? Apart from when you're friends or kids are at the marriageable age, do you even get invited to one a year? You know why it's a wedding? Because it's the marriage feast of the Lamb of God, because Jesus is the Groom who has come for His bride. Jesus came into the world to invite us to His marriage feast where we're not just a guest but the bride.
But no one gets in without humility. God invites only, according to the parable, poor, crippled, lame, and blind. Did you watch carefully enough to see that this means Jesus wants you to embrace whatever humbling God brings into your life? Rita Coolidge sang that a man's love lifted her higher than she had ever been lifted before. God's love does that, but the love of God that lifts you ever higher toward paradise is found in low places. It's found in a Man whose conception, birth, life, and death are regularly made fun of. It's found in Austin tap water, tasteless Bread and cheap Wine. It's found in the words of a bald guy's preaching.
Proverbs 27:7 says, "One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry every bitter thing is sweet." You'll loathe the honey of forgiveness unless bitter humbling makes it sweet again. Hunger to hear you're forgiven like this character in a TV show. She needs to hear her boyfriend say, "I forgive you for cheating on me," but she can't bear the thought that though he could forgive her, he might not go on with her. So she gets an amnesia pill. He'll forget what she has done, but she will get to hear the words she's starving for. The problem is the pill also knocks you out. She confesses her sin. "I need to hear you say, I forgive you.'" she begs as her stunned boyfriend drifts off. She's left shaking him, pleading, "Say I forgive you; say I forgive you." So starved was she for forgiveness.
Embrace all the bitter ways God humbles you to show you your sins so you're starving to hear words of forgiveness, starving to eat the Body and Blood that gives forgiveness, so thirsty for it that you're not too proud to go to the shallow waters of the Baptismal font for it. People stay away from church for all sorts of excuses, but the reason they stay away is that a full soul loathes the honey of forgiveness. Humbled souls don't, so embrace the bitter humiliation and the hunger that comes with it.
Did you watch carefully enough to come out where at least one of the guests did? He got that Jesus wasn't talking about rules for attending or giving an earthly meal but about the feast in the kingdom of heaven. He could know that because Jesus brought it all down to the resurrection on the Last Day. Have you been watching Jesus carefully enough to see that it won't be till, not just the resurrection, but specifically the resurrection of the righteous that humility and generosity are rewarded?
Remember how last week it all came down to righteousness? Remember how we said we have none of our own? On our own, our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags says Isaiah 64. We aren't going to see the resurrection of the righteous apart from the righteousness Jesus won for us by His holy life and guilty death on the cross. But that hard won righteousness has got to get to where we live. There has to be a means of distributing the righteousness humbled sinners like us are starving for. Those means are as close as Water is to skin, as easily digestible as Bread and Wine, and no farther away than this Word is from your ear.
At the resurrection of the righteous everything will be seen for what it really is. Watch carefully: Death is life, the Judge is Savior, the humiliation we knew here is exaltation there, the poverty we knew here is riches there. There are no last seats but only first, and the crippled are whole, the lame healed, the blind see, the guilty forgiven. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20130901); Luke 14: 1, 7-14