Have you ever been to a nice dinner where someone made things really… really… awkward? Maybe the way they were dressed, what they were saying, how they were acting… it just made everyone uneasy…? Now, while that’s not a whole lot of fun to deal with… have you ever stopped to consider that sometimes being put in those awkward spots is really a good thing… sometimes we need awkward… we need to be made uncomfortable… and this is especially true if we have grown comfortable with sin.
In the Gospel today we get a close look at “Awkward dinner-guest Jesus” and see him address some issues he notices at the dinner party he was invited to. And if you read through this whole section in Luke 14 where Jesus is a guest in this home you’d realize the biggest issue that needed to be addressed was the problem of pride and lack of humility that those in the house were displaying. And so today we’ll consider some of the pitfalls of pride and see what true humility looks like as we take a closer look at this section of God’s Word.
Luke begins this chapter by telling us: One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched… Now, let’s get something straight here… the people in this Pharisee’s house were not watching Jesus because they wanted to learn something or because they were star-struck having the Son of God in the same house with them… they were watching him to see if he would do something wrong that they could jump on.
In fact we’re told in the verses that we skipped over in our reading that they had invited a man with a medical condition that caused his body to swell up. He was sick… and Jesus… well… Jesus was known as a man who was able to heal the sick. But remember… it was the Sabbath day, and many of the Jews had become so twisted in their literalistic interpretation of Sabbath rules and regulations that they considered even working a miracle to heal someone to be a violation of the Sabbath. And so they watched Jesus… And he healed the man and called them out for their foolish adherence to man-made rules that ignored the law of God which commanded love for their neighbor… Jesus was turning into “awkward dinner-guest Jesus” pretty quick…
But he didn’t stop there. Our sermon text goes on in verse 7: When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable… And before we get to the parable it’s interesting, isn’t it… they were busy watching Jesus all the while not realizing that he was watching them too… he saw their behavior… how they were jockeying for the best positions at the dinner table… no one wanted to be left for last… and so Jesus tells them a parable to teach them a much needed lesson about humility. Really he tells two parables. The first one is addressed to the dinner guests there with Jesus.
He said: “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.” (Luke 14:7-11).
The point is pretty clear isn’t it? If you are always trying to put yourself before others, chances are… you’re gonna get knocked down to size. This is something Jesus’ dinner guests should have known… after all, the Bible says: Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud. (Proverbs 16:18-19).
Jesus hoped that those who heard the warning of this parable would be reminded not to think so highly of themselves and instead to practice true humility. But pride wasn’t a problem just for the dinner guests… Jesus turned his attention to the host of the party with the next parable. He told him: “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.” (Luke 14:12-14).
This Pharisee had invited one sick man to his banquet, but only to use him to trip Jesus up… the main reason he was having the party was to enjoy the people who he liked… who made him happy… who could repay the favor with invitations of their own. Jesus saw right through it. And so as the dinner went on “Awkward dinner-guest Jesus” just made things more and more… awkward.
Would the same thing happen at our tables? In our lives? If we could actually see Jesus and have a back and forth conversation with him what parable might he tell for our benefit? Ultimately they wouldn’t be much different from the parables we find here in our text. People have a pride problem… and if we examine our lives I think we’d have to admit pride plays a big part in so much of what we do. And if you don’t believe me try cutting it out… you’ll find that trying to cut pride out of your life is like cutting sugar out of your diet… it’s hard to do because it’s in everything.
How many decisions do you make that have as their primary goal to make you happy? The clothes we wear… the phone we own… the friends we accept on facebook or are willing to be seen with in public… it’s all about how we are perceived. The food we eat, the career we seek, the house we live in… it’s all about what will be best for me. And sure… we tell ourselves that much of what we do is for others… but for me at least… even the things I do for others are often things that ultimately bring back love, respect, or reputation to me… I’m so fixated on myself that I can’t make a decision that doesn’t take me into account. It’s crazy! And it’s common…
Pride is insidious… it’s in everything we do. And humility… well… it’s elusive isn’t it? Martin Luther once said that, “It is God alone who knows humility; He alone judges it and brings it to light; so that no one knows less about humility than he who is truly humble.” (Luther’s Works Vol. 21). Only God can see true humility. Because once you notice it in yourself, you’ve lost it. It’s like the story of the boy who was given a badge from the town he lived in for being the most humble person in town… You ever hear this story? This boy was given a badge for being the most humble person in town… and the day he put on the badge they took it away from him.
So what are you supposed to do? Well… certainly pray for humility… genuine humility. Pray that you might put others and their needs ahead of your own… but recognize that simply focusing on your problem with pride is not enough. C.S. Lewis once said that “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” (C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity).
His point is the same one Jesus was making in our text. If you find yourself fixated on yourself…the solution is not to fixate on yourself some more until you’ve fixed yourself… The solution is to fixate on others… stop thinking about yourself altogether… See and meet the needs of your spouse, your friends, your parents, your kids, your coworkers… reach out to the poor and needy in our community with your help and with your time… But even as you do this… realize too… no matter how hard you try focus on others… to be selfless and humble… you will never find true humility in yourself. The only place you will see true humility is when you fixate on Jesus.
In our text today Jesus major point was what? Well he said: everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11). And Jesus didn’t just talk the talk about humility. What he demanded of us he fulfilled for us through his perfect humility in life and in death. St. Paul explained it this way to the Philippians:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:3-8).
Jesus is God. And yet he made himself nothing. He lowered himself to serve us… to meet our greatest need. Not because we were so good and had earned it… not because we would repay him… He humbled himself because of his love for people who did not earn or merit love… that’s what grace is. And by grace Jesus humbled himself all the way to the cross where he put our eternal joy in heaven before his own self-interest. He suffered our hell on the cross, and died a death we can hardly imagine. And you know what? Because he humbled himself so… guess what God the Father did? Well Paul goes on to say in that same section of Philippians:
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
What does true humility look like? It looks like Jesus. This is the truth we need to remember when we start to fixate on ourselves… when our open or hidden pride consume us and then convict us… we need to see in Jesus the cure for this sin and in him find our comfort… comfort through his humble life and death on our behalf. And seeing such perfect humility and love, let us then pray for strength to keep our eyes fixed not on ourselves, but on our Savior. And seeing him, we will find strength to serve others… to look for ways to befriend the outcast in your classroom… to encourage the coworker who always seems to have problems… to open your schedule and your wallet and your home to serve the needs of people who aren’t normally on your guest list… people who aren’t in your family album.
When we see Jesus and are refreshed by his humble sacrifice and service to us… we will marvel at such love for wretched people like us… and we’ll find ways for that love to overflow in humble serve to others. And amazingly… Jesus says that this kind of service – imperfect and inconsistent thought it is among us – this kind of faith-created service and sacrifice will be rewarded by our God in heaven. Because we earned it? Because we deserved it? No… we know what God says about our good deeds: It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13). No these rewards in heaven… like every gift from God, will be given by his grace. What a God we have! Who so lavishly promises us eternal fellowship with him and eternal blessings beyond anything we could even begin to imagine.
May God grant you joy now and always through the peace and forgiveness won by your Risen and Exalted Savior. And may God grant that you always see in Jesus true humility… lived for you… and now living in you by faith… and overflowing in humble service to others… all for the glory of his saving name. Amen.