Luke 14:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-6; Proverbs 25:6-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Upon first hearing, you might think that today’s Gospel is primarily about showing humility in social situations. However, while humility and selflessness are expected traits for a Christian, they are truly the fruit of a more fundamental trait: freedom under the Gospel. Indeed, when you realize, acknowledge, and confess the freedom that you enjoy in Christ, then all fleshly striving, fear, and rivalry will become unnecessary foolishness, for you will see that you already have all things needful and that you want for nothing, and that the praise, honor, and glory of men is a fleeting and needless thing, and that the true riches are often unseen and unquantifiable to all but the Lord Himself.
Today’s Gospel begins on a Sabbath, with our Lord Jesus dining “at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.” As St. Luke informs you, “they were watching Him carefully.” Why were they watching Him? Well, because, conveniently, there was a man there in their midst who was suffering from dropsy, a swelling of the limbs due to the retention of fluids. You see, the Pharisees were conflicted; they knew that is was always lawful to show love and mercy to a neighbor, but, you see, they held to a very strict interpretation of the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” They interpreted the letter of the Law to mean that they were not to lift a finger to do anything on the LORD’s day of rest, not even to help a neighbor or a brother in need. Again, they knew that the spirit of the Law required them to help, but they were enslaved to the letter of the Law, as they interpreted it, and they were more afraid of being called out by the other Pharisees present than they were the LORD who gave them the commandment in the first place. Therefore, they were watching Jesus to see what He would do. Would Jesus obey the spirit of the Law and help the man with dropsy? Or, would He cower under the letter of the Law, as they interpreted it, and ignore the man just as they were doing? How would Jesus respond to peer pressure?
Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. You see, though the Pharisees were free under the same Gospel that has freed you and I, they chose to live as slaves under the letter of the Law, striving to do the Law in order to justify themselves before God, when God, in Jesus, proclaimed to them the Good News that the Law was being fulfilled in Jesus so that they did not have to live in slavery to fear at keeping the letter of the Law, but were free to live the Law of love towards others, without fear of condemnation, to the glory of the LORD. They knew what they were supposed to say: “Yes, it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, for love is the fulfilling of the Law.” But, they were afraid to say what was right, for fear of judgment by the other lawyers and Pharisees, and so, they said nothing. Then, Jesus answered for them, not with words, but with deeds: “He took [the man suffering from dropsy] and healed him and sent him away.”
“Which of you,” Jesus then asked them, “having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And, again, they remained silent. For, the truth is, each of them would indeed help their own son or ox in need on the Sabbath, but their self-imposed slavery under the letter of the Law would not permit them to say so for fear of judgment, or loss of prestige, before their peers. Again, they knew what was right, but they were afraid to do it – not afraid of God, mind you, but they were afraid of other men, their judgment, and damage to their reputation. This is why they were slaves to the Law. The Gospel always proclaims your freedom the result of the Law fulfilled in Jesus, but the Law always shows your sins and unworthiness, judges you, and damns you to hell. The Law paralyzes you with fear so that you do not do what you know that you should, but, instead, you do that which you know to be wrong. Talk about peer pressure, right?
Then Jesus taught them in a parable about not taking the best seats at a wedding banquet. It is here that you may be tempted to think that this parable is primarily about Christian humility and, as a result, miss the more fundamental point about the joy of living in the freedom of the Gospel. Jesus had observed that the guests who were invited to the banquet at the ruler of the Pharisee’s house strove to choose the places of honor at the table. He knew that they were obeying the rules of a man-made social law that valued such things as place, honor, prestige, and glory, and that they interpreted the Law of God similarly. If they could not secure a place of honor, then they would be miserable and feel short-changed and embarrassed before their peers. Therefore, Jesus taught them that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that it certainly is not that way in the kingdom of His Father. He said to them: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus’ exhortation is to take the lowest place. But, why? Because worldly place, honor, prestige, and glory before men mean nothing to God or in terms of eternal life. Moreover, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has set you free from all of that nonsense! Forget about place, honor, prestige, and glory; you are free! You are free to enjoy the feast for itself, not because of your place in regard to others! Consider the Good News: You are invited! You get to attend the wedding banquet wholly apart from your own goodness or badness, your place, honor, or anything other than the goodness and grace of the host, your heavenly Father. Amazingly, and sadly, too often you miss out on the joy of the feast, the joy of life, because you bow down in slavery to the fallen, broken expectations of this world, the flesh, and other men. Jesus would have you live free from all of that, in His love, compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness given to you by grace alone, through faith alone, absolutely FREE!
In truth, this is exactly where you stand! This is your place! You are in, and no one can make you to be out! Jesus has set you free, only you can sell yourself into slavery again. But, if you insist on winning the favor of men by elevating yourself over your brother and your neighbor, coveting the accolades, praise, honor, and glory of men above all else, then, instead of being exalted in the Father’s kingdom, you will find yourself humbled before all, embarrassed, and demoted to the lowest place. For, Jesus warns, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
You see, humility is an important teaching in this Gospel, but it comes as the result of the freedom you enjoy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus has fulfilled both the spirit and the letter of the Law for you, in your place. Therefore, He has set you free from its judgment and condemnation and from the necessity to perform it in any way to justify yourself before His Father. Jesus has done it; it is finished; you are justified! Therefore, you are free to do the Law without fear or coercion. Therefore, do not submit yourself once again to laws that keep you from doing what you know is good and right to do! Primary amongst these things is how you relate to your brother and your neighbor. In this regard St. Paul exhorts you to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Paul explains further that, though you are many, you are truly of “one body and one Spirit” having “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Therefore, the opinions and values of men, the world, and the flesh are meaningless and count for nothing, for there is no distinction in terms of justification, forgiveness, righteousness, for there is no distinction in terms of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out upon you in and through your Lord Jesus Christ.
To submit yourself once again to the judgments of men, the flesh, and the world is like a freed prisoner returning to his jail cell. But, Jesus has set you free, free even to do that. Further, He knows that you are weak and that part of you desires to be imprisoned. Therefore, to keep you focused on freedom and strong to resist temptations, to protect and keep you from the assails of the evil one, He calls you to return to Him for sweet absolution, He binds up your wounds and pours on the salve of His Holy Spirit, He strengthens you with His Word which is life, and He feeds and nourishes you with His body and blood that you may live in and with Him. You are His; He has bought you with a dear price. But slavery to Christ is the sweetest freedom. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.