Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 14:1-14 (Read v. 11) One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. 7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “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, 9 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. 10 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. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
If ever you have flown on a plane, you have discovered the harsh reality of the phrase “Know your station.” When you board the aircraft, at the front of the plane, you have the privilege of going through first class. Flight attendants with trays of champagne and chocolate. Wide, executive style leather seats with plenty of leg room between rows. In the back people are having their glasses filled with wine and grabbing some crackers and cheese. But, your ticket reminds you quite unmistakably, “Not for you.” Then you enter the business-class section. The seats not quite as wide but still comfortable. Gone is the complimentary champagne, but at least every seat has its own TV monitor. A flight attendant looks at your ticket and says, “Keep moving.” You pass through a curtain. Suddenly you enter a whole different airplane! Gone is the free champagne and cheese and crackers and the wide seats. Instead are a small bag of peanuts and a soft-drink. You enter what fells like the cattle car of the airline industry. It is noisy, the narrow seats look way past prime, and you have to make yourself skinny between fellow passengers as you muscle your carry-on into the cramped overhead compartment. Yes, you’re riding coach. At that moment, you know your station.
In our culture we almost instinctively evaluate ourselves in light of the people around us and determine where we fit in the social matrix of work, home, school, and even church. We are consumed with the drive to advance our station in life. As our thoughts focus on ways to promote self, take care of self, and protect self, we discover that we’ve fallen into the pit of self-exaltation.
Our theme verse for today is Lk 14:11. Jesus said,
“Everyone Who Exalts Himself Will Be Humbled, and He Who Humbles Himself Will Be Exalted.”
This verse is aimed with deadly accuracy at the lifestyle that many of us live. The prominence of self-exaltation should not be surprising to us; it was part of the original sin. The serpent said to Eve, “You will become like God” (Gen 3:5). As good as Adam and Eve had it in that perfect garden, they wanted more and all hell broke loose.
No longer did they walk with God. They ran from God. They hid in shame. Their sin broke everything. It broke their relationship with God. It broke their relationship with the world around them. It broke their relationship with each other.
But, Christ came to restore our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. Through this encounter with the Pharisees and the two parables, Jesus demonstrates the impact of self-exaltation on our lives. This occasion offers Jesus three teaching points.
The opening sentence sets a rather ominous tone. Jesus is invited to eat at the house of a prominent Pharisee. Imagine as Jesus and his disciples are walking toward this Pharisee’s house. Jesus has finally made the big time. He’s finally with the “in crowd.” With the noises of the crowded homes, the coach section, of the town behind them, they are walking into the luxury of the first-class section of town. The text says that the Pharisees “…were watching him carefully.” They were waiting for the trap to close around Jesus.
What was the trap? Rather, who was the trap? V 2: “Behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.” Dropsy refers to someone who has an excess of fluid that builds up in one part of the body. It was considered a punishment from God for sin and guilt.
This man was a plant, a trap. You see, it’s the Sabbath. It’s illegal to work on the Sabbath. The Pharisees planted him there just to see if Jesus would heal him and give them something to accuse Jesus of. So Jesus is walking into the room and looks at the man in need.
“And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent” (vv 3–4a).
Here’s the thing: It’s not the car you see that you hit; it’s the car you don’t see that you hit. The Pharisees, thought they could see everything so clearly, but in truth, they were blind.
They did not see a man in need. They saw a trap for Jesus. First, will he heal on the Sabbath? Second, will he heal someone who is obviously suffering because of his sin and guilt? After all, God is punishing him; who are we to interfere with God’s punishment?
In their blindness, they looked intently but did not see. Self-exaltation had blinded them. Their zeal to be better became their downfall. But, Jesus saw. He saw a man for what he was: a child of God in need, suffering in the misery and the shame of his disease. “Then he took him and healed him and sent him away.
In compassion for this broken man, Jesus spoke the words of life and healing. Remember your shopping trip last night. How many people did you pass whom you didn’t notice? In our blindness we miss opportunities too. Do you see and yet not perceive those in need around you? In our striving for greatness, we experience brokenness with our fellow man.
The second event in our text comes in the form of a parable. “Now [Jesus] told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying 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. . . . For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled’?” (vv 7–9, 11a).
You’ve been invited to a wedding. At the party after the wedding, there are many tables. But, the wedding party table has the best of everything. Their champagne glasses are crystal. Their plates are fine china. You know you don’t belong there, so you willingly pass the first-class section. You pause at the business-class section of the hall. The champagne glasses are plastic, but it is champagne. The plates and forks are plastic, but it’s not just peanuts. You find the best seat in this second section so thankful that you’re not in the back of the room.
Then the father of the bride walks up to you. You know what happens next. You are publicly humiliated by the bride’s father, because he sends you to paper plates and folding chairs in the back of the room—the coach section of the hall.
When we exalt ourselves, we lose the ability to see ourselves for who we are. The lack of perspective sets us up to be humiliated. You’ve seen this kind of person in action, maybe at school or at work. They are quick to take credit for things they didn’t do. The thing is, everyone sees through their self-aggrandizing efforts, but the person thinks he gets away with it. Until one day when something happens and the sum total of the efforts at self-promotion collapses when someone speaks a painful word of truth. When we try to make ourselves look better than we are in the eyes of others, we end up looking worse? Self-exaltation results in brokenness.
Jesus uses another parable to describe the third brokenness of self-exaltation. Jesus challenges us: “When you give a feast, don’t invite your friends for dinner, knowing they will repay you. Invite someone that cannot repay you.” Notice that this isn’t a casual dining event. This is a party, a celebration, that Jesus is talking about. But whom do you invite?
You might choose to invite your boss. There’s no better way to get brownie points. You might invite your family and friends. It will demonstrate to them just how successful you already are, and they’ll feel obligated to repay you. While we can recognize the dangers of self-exaltation, we struggle with this parable. Jesus might have gone just a bit too far. He says, “when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” The fact that we never leave the first-class cabin and go down the aisle to coach to invite anyone up to the feast demonstrates our discomfort at this particular challenge. Our view of hospitality is so broken that the very thing Jesus says not to do seems normal to us, and the thing he tells us to do seems crazy.
James doesn’t pull any punches. But did you notice the truth of the matter? Self-exaltation is nothing less than idolatry. It is an idolatry that has broken our relationship with our God, with our community, with our identity, and with true hospitality.
But, along with the warning, the promise is made: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
“When you are invited” to that wedding feast, Jesus says, “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” (v 10).
And “when you give [that] feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (vv 13–14).
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” but “he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v 11).
Humility begins with the realization that we are wrong in our thinking and rebellious in our practice. The separation of self-exaltation is defeated by Christ. Christ humbled himself in order to exalt us. Christ took our seat in coach class and gave us his seat in first class. In Christ, our brokenness is healed, and we are no longer separated from God: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Jesus humbled himself. He did not come to be a passenger in first class, business class, or even coach. He came to be a servant of all the passengers, that through his perfect sacrifice on the cross, the brokenness of the sin of the First Adam might be done away.
The driving force of self-exaltation is defeated in Christ. With his blood, Christ has healed the brokenness that separated us from God and from one another. In addition, he has given us freedom from the very thing that drives us to self-exaltation. Listen to 1 Pet 5:6–7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Notice that it is our anxiety that fights against humility. We strive to exalt ourselves because we are afraid of others looking down on us; we are afraid of being weak; we are afraid of missing out. In place of fear that leads to brokenness and separation, God gives us faith and his perfect love. Never again need we fear being overlooked and unloved, for by his death and resurrection Christ has honored us with every good thing.
As you leave today in God’s perfect love embrace the newfound community we have in Christ. embrace your newfound community as you notice people, their needs and hopes. embrace your newfound community as you walk in the new identity you have in Christ. embrace your newfound community as you strive to practice a radical hospitality that reflects the Father’s unconditional love.
This is the new we. We can lift up those in need, because Christ has said to us who were buried in coach, “Friend, move up higher.” Amen.