LUKE 14:1, 7-14
1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
It’s a pretty big deal. As a pastor, I have to handle the Word of God, preaching and teaching faithfully and truthfully. I have to look after God’s sheep and feed the flock with his Word and his Sacrament. I have to care for people of all ages, types and backgrounds. I have to do so much. A pastor has a huge job.
Whenever I say that I am a pastor to people out in the community it always creates a reaction. I can see it in their faces. Whether I’m out golfing, at the store, at the hospital, at a park with my kids, or at a party it doesn’t matter, because being a pastor is just that big of a deal. It may not always be positive. Some people don’t like pastors because of past experiences or because of the headlines that sometimes surface in the news. But a pastor always has some pretty lofty expectations. I mean, people should look up to a pastor, because pastors have a big job to do and we work for the Lord.
Now, while it’s true, having that kind of attitude is a bunch of nonsense! No pastor who is worth anything to a congregation should ever be that full of himself. He should never think that he’s above people. But that’s an example of how guys like this prominent Pharisee operated. They loved to throw their titles around and list off their accomplishments and responsibilities. They loved to be noticed for who there were and what they did. They loved to take note of what was wrong with other people, too. And it’s no different at this Sabbath meal. The Pharisees had a close eye on Jesus. They thought they could catch Jesus doing something wrong. Talk about pride! These Pharisees thought they could correct God. But at this meal, they still had time to act like little kids at a birthday party trying to claim a great spot.
Jesus couldn’t help but notice the pride that was filling up the room like a blanket of thick fog. So he turns to them with a pretty sensible parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.
It’s sensible because everybody wants to avoid that kind of humiliation in front of a group and everybody would enjoy that kind of honor in front of a group. But pride is not always so sensible. Pride kind of wants the nice spot right away. Pride plays games trying to pit me against someone else in a contest of who’s better. And pride will always well up inside downplaying my faults and failures in order to make me the winner. If I’m comparing myself to a popular celebrity, I might not have the gawking public following my every move and giving me the royal treatment wherever I go, but I’m better because my life is more moral and less greedy. I’m better because I don’t crave the spotlight and my feuds are not out there for everyone to see. If I’m up against a politician, I might not have the popular vote, but I’m better because I’m not a liar and scoundrel. I’m better because I am a Christian that stands for God’s honest truth. If I’m looking at a coworker or neighbor, I’m better because I have a better attitude and my family life is all under control. If I’m up against a stubborn child, I’m better because I have knowledge and experience. I’m better because God has given me authority and responsibilities. If I compare myself to a poor person, well I have a steady income because I went to school and work hard. I can fill my house with nice things and wear nice clothes. If I compare myself to a prisoner, I am better because I would never ever get caught doing something that could get me arrested. I’m above that.
Do you notice how pride works? This pride that exists in each one of us makes it so hard to be humble. Humility is acknowledging that everything is not alright in my life. Humility is admitting that I need help. Humility is making yourself lower than other people. Humility is serving others without thinking “now you owe me one.” Here’s a great definition from C. S. Lewis: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” The thing is humility is so unnatural and foreign to us. We are born with pride. We are born with the desire to be served as the most important. Honestly, no baby thinks, “How can I help mommy? I know, I won’t make a dirty diaper today. I won’t scream when I’m hungry. I will care about mom and dad more than I care about myself.” No! Babies always destroy their diapers. Babies always scream for their food. Because babies naturally only care about themselves. We are born with pride. And if you can’t bring yourself to think that there is anything wrong with a precious newborn because they are just doing what natural and acceptable for a baby, then that is exactly my point. We are born with this natural focus on me. And this inborn pride makes it so hard to be humble.
But here’s where Jesus warning helps us out so much. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Just like a 25 speed limit doesn’t want you speeding into an accident, just like a warning label doesn’t want you to eat something toxic, so Jesus doesn’t want pride to ruin things for you eternally. Jesus says we’re not just talking about a wedding dinner, but we’re talking about life. If you want a great life where you are always the best, where everything is always about you, and where you can do whatever you want, then enjoy it now because the eternal accident is coming. If you don’t want to care about others, if you don’t want to give to others as God as so freely given to you, then keep eating the poison of pride and self-centeredness until it destroys you forever in hell.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You could carry on like you aren’t the most important. You could live each day for someone else, not always putting your own desires first. You could be thankful for all the blessings God has given by giving some time, energy and money to serve others. You could do those things simply because God has already done those things for you. Then, you don’t have to worry about the fatal crash or the poison.
That sounds amazing, but it’s hard. Pride doesn’t give up easily. And our culture bombards us with messages about serving only ourselves. But, we also have Jesus. We can listen to our Savior. We also want to live like his children, who are filled with gratitude and humility. And so maybe you’re looking for the middle ground in there. There has to be somewhere between pride and humility. There has to be some spot between doing everything for yourself and doing everything for other people. Maybe there is some table in the banquet that’s not right up front and not totally in the back that would be perfect for you. You don’t want people taking advantage of you, but you want to be kind and caring. You want to be nice and giving, but you don’t want to get swallowed up in this dog-eat-dog world. You want to have most of the week to yourself, but you’ll give Sunday to the Lord.
But does that ever work? Can you drive 50 in a 25 and still be safe all the time? Do you really want to try eating just a little bit a poison to see if it will kill you or not? I don’t think so. So, why would you do that with your life as a follower of Jesus? Why would you compromise when it comes to humility?
Today, Jesus warns against all pride. He says it’s not worth it. He says humility works for his followers. Even if it seems hard, humility still works in this age of entitlement. Even if it is thinking of yourself less, humility can be exalted in this self-centered, egotistical world.
And here’s why – because someone else was humble for you first. Someone came here to live for you. Someone was lowly, like a servant, for you. Someone came to serve your greatest need. Someone took all the embarrassment for you. Someone helped you with all your worst troubles and struggles. Someone gave everything he had so that you would never be taken advantage of. Someone made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.
Jesus is the only one who could walk into any banquet, any classroom, any meeting anywhere and demand the blest place and the royal treatment. He could walk into the White House and say, “I’m president now,” without any objection. He deserves our dedicated and best service. But he gave it all up. He chose humility to serve you and me. The great and glorious became least and lowest. He was the servant for swindlers and scoundrels, for creeps and criminals, for liars and lusters, for the pompous and proud. He served those who don’t deserve it. He served you and me to bring us forgiveness and life in heaven. He got down into the dirt and filth to get us out and purify us before God.
Jesus knew exactly what he was saying – “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” – because it happened to him. He gave up everything. He was humble in Bethlehem and Nazareth. He was humbled in Jerusalem. He was humiliated on Calvary. But he was exalted on Easter when he came back from the dead. He was exalted as he rose over this earth to go back to his throne in heaven. He is exalted now as the King of kings. Every knee will bow down before him. Every tongue will confess him. Some will do it with joyous faith, some with terrified fear, but it will happen at the Last Day.
Until that day arrives, faith fosters humility in us. And what does that look like? Jesus has an answer for us that isn’t just about how you think or picking where you sit. He goes on to say, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…”
Jesus reminds us that humility is not just a hidden quality that no one ever notices. Humility shows up in the life of a Christian. Humility asks the question: “Jesus, how can I reflect a little bit of your humility in my life?” Maybe that means you will actively find ways to think of yourself – your wants, your schedule, your family, your hobbies – less and others more. Maybe you’ll reevaluate the way you look at coworkers and neighbors not thinking of what they should do for you, but what you can do for them. Humility will lower you and raise others up so that you can say “I’m sorry” to a friend or relative. This humility that saved you and the humility that God is growing in you will make it easier for you to give your offerings in church, knowing that the gifts are providing for others here and, through our synod, around the world. Humility means husbands and wives don’t have to try to win arguments. Thinking that arguments can be won for the good of a marriage is so counterproductive and proud. Instead, because Christ looked to serve your needs, you can serve your spouse’s needs without looking for the payback.
Jesus has one final thing that really elevates humility for us: “you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Now, please don’t confuse what Jesus has just promised. Your humility cannot save you. If that was the case that would mean heaven must be earned. Heaven cannot be earned. Only Jesus saves you. Only Jesus can open the narrow door, as we learned last week. Only Jesus’ humility can exalt you to eternal life in heaven.
Instead, this crazy promise assures you that a humble life will be exalted. Jesus says go find ways to practice humility with people who cannot pay you back and he will repay you. Be caring and supportive and helpful and generous even if you never see the pay off in this life, Jesus will find a way to make it all work out. And let’s just say that your humility does make an impact on your family and neighbors. Let’s say because faith moved you to be humble 15 people heard about Jesus and have faith in him. Isn’t that a repayment in and of itself? And yet, Jesus says he himself will repay you. The Savior who humbled himself for you, who rose from the dead, who was exalted to his throne in heaven, he will repay you for your humility.
There’s really no reason for me to proud about me. I can’t earn heaven. I haven’t impressed God with my life. Too often I try to exalt myself and humble others. I end up acting like those Pharisees. Jesus did the opposite. He lowered himself for me. His humility paid for my eternity in heaven. If you want to be proud about something, be proud of him. If you want someone to be first in your life, it’s him. And you will be blessed with an eternity that is certainly not low but exalted in glory with him. Amen.