Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Sunday of the Sabbath Healing
September 23, 2018
Taking the Lowest Seat for You
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“… when you are invited [to a wedding feast], 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. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11)
This is good advice, isn’t it? Don’t sit in a seat that isn’t yours. In a time when everyone is encouraged to feel entitled to whatever chair they want, a little humility might go a long way.
But this advice isn’t limited to our day. King Solomon wrote down this advice 1,000 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem:
Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and 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. (Proverbs 25:6-7)
Jesus gave this advice to His table companion—a group of Pharisees—and said it to rebuke them. They saw themselves as deserving. They felt that they deserved attention when they spoke. When they gathered for the special Sabbath meal, they felt that they deserved the best seats.
This is why Jesus said at another time:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. . . . But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. . . . “Everything they do is done for men to see . . . they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues . . . In the same way, on the outside [they] appear to people as righteous but on the inside [they] are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:2, 3b, 5-6, 28)
People haven’t changed since Jesus’ day, so I wonder how many of these prominent men really believed their own publicity, that they were awesome and God loved them more than anyone else. Here I think of the Pharisees in the parable of the Pharisees and tax collector, who bragged confidently of his own inner rightness before God and told God basically, “You’re lucky to have me on the team.” Today’s version might be a prima donna concert virtuosuo or a SEC quarterback (okay, or a B1G Ten quarterback).
I wonder how many were cynics who knew that their goodness was an act, but they were happy to keep acting because it got them good seats and the respect of their fellow man. Here I think of Caiaphas and Annas, the high priests who deliberately ignored the evidence of Christ’s innocence and handed Him over to the Romans in order to keep their influence and power. Today’s version might be the corporate executive who do whatever it takes to make sure his position and stock options are secure.
I wonder how many were sincere Jews who were waiting for someone to come and save them. True sons of Abraham who had been taught the Scriptures and knew that being good was good, but unable to save souls. Here I think of Nicodemas, who came to ask Jesus questions that seemed to have been on his mind for some time. In the end we hear how he came and helped prepare his Savior’s body for burial.
We’re no better than Pharisees. We might appear righteousness to others and we might even begin to believe our own propaganda. But we must confess that we think we are deserving of God’s attention.
In our fairness-obsessed culture we must pretend not to care where other people sit, but we do. Kids care about where they sit in proximity to mom or dad. And they’ll scream to get the place they think they deserve.
At wedding receptions, do you pick everyone’s seat or leave it up for grabs? It can be risky, since we know people are watching and we don’t want to offend anyone. And in the wreckage of broken and angry families, the politics of where everyone sits up front can be delicate.
We still care about who’s getting attention. We are Pharisees at home, at special events, and even in the church.
For example, when we visit other Lutheran churches, we complain when none of the members of the church says hello to us. We crave attention, but we also know that we should try to appear the opposite. So we might try to piously pass off our obsession with attention as evangelism. We say, “Well, if they don’t greet me and aren’t overtly friendly to me, then they must not care about evangelism.” But really we just snubbed, because we think that we deserve attention.
When our ideas at home, school, work, or church don’t getthe attention we think they deserve, we become dissatisfied. When our plans don’t play out as we thought, we become irritated and we complain to ears that are eager to hear gossip.
Lord, have mercy on us!
And He does. Indeed His parable about picking the lowest seat at the banquet isn’t advice on how to get people to like you and get more attention; this parable is how He fulfills it. Listen to Paul’s description of Jesus.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but 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!
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
and gave Him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus willingly took the lowest place—He became a man! He willingly got even lower—He was nailed to a tree to be punished for the sins of the world! And then His Father, as His Son committed His spirit to Him, came and said in a way: “My beloved Son, move up to a better place.” So He raised up His Son’s soul to His right hand and raised Him bodily on the third day.
He who humbles Himself will be exalted.
Jesus humbled Himself and is exalted.
Jesus humbled Himself for us lowly sinners and for His sake, we are exalted with Him!
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
God demonstrates His own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Thanks be to God!