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- Croixaliers – I Will Greatly Rejoice in the Lord
- CW 608:1 Glory Be to God the Father
- CW 729 Son of God, Eternal Savior
- CW 662 – Draw Near
- Croixaliers – This Little Light of Mine
I’m the best! Actually, I’m better than the best! I’m bester. The bestest! The BESTEREST!…especially at grammar. Many of us struggle with inflated egos. Or at least, we are inclined to believe that we are always right and more important than those around us. Today, Jesus challenges our egos and our pride. He teaches us about humility and what it looks like. He shows us those who exalt themselves will be humbled by God. But those who humble themselves will be exalted by God.
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees and teachers of the law hate Jesus. They are trying to find a legit reason to turn the people against him, anything that will make him seem like a terrible guy. They are looking for a slip of the tongue, any mistake that they can twist to their advantage and his disadvantage. The Pharisees want to be viewed as the best and Jesus was getting in the way of that. And so, Jesus was invited into the home of a Pharisee. It was all part of the Pharisees’ trap. In the house of this prominent Pharisee, maybe even one of who would call for Jesus’ death, they were watching him carefully for any slip up or weaknesses whatsoever. Imagine you are Jesus. People are watching your every move as you are eating and judging you. No pressure.
The Pharisees immediately fall into a trap of their own because as they are getting seated for dinner, they all scramble to sit in the places of honor at the table. In first-century Jewish culture, one’s position at the table was very significant. And each person there wanted everyone else to fawn over them, to honor them and recognize how great they were. “Oh, you’re sitting a whole four chairs away from the host. I’m sitting in the closest chair. That means I’m better.”
Jesus explains how foolish their actions are. He says, “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 person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.”
It’s like in kindergarten when you would line up. If you were like me, you wanted to be at the front of the line, the first one over everyone else. If you were more like me, you might have gotten in trouble a couple times trying to get to the front of the line. Then the teacher would send you to the back of the line with everyone knowing you messed up. Humiliated and with all eyes on you, you’d have to walk to the back of the line.
It is even more humiliating if the host of an important event, in front of everyone, requests you give up your seat for someone more important. And then everyone watches you lose face as you sulk to the shadowy corner of the room. If you are invited to a wedding and aren’t in the wedding party, you wouldn’t sit next to the bride or groom. You certainly wouldn’t sit in one of their chairs. You will get pushed out of the way! If you are at a charity event and a celebrity has been invited to kick-off the affair, you wouldn’t sit in her spot. You are going to get moved on down.
Jesus instead tells us, “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 the other guests.” In the same way, if you are a special and honored guest, you’ll get moved up to where you are supposed to be. The one taking a lower seat does not view himself as better than all the other guests. And if you happened to get moved up in any way, regardless of position, it shows honor in the presence of others.
It’s easy to look at this text and go, “Duh! Of course, people shouldn’t try to take all the honored seats. That type of stupidity is only reserved for the Pharisees.” And yet, it’s not. A lack of humility was even a problem among Jesus’ own disciples. At the Last Supper, after dinner and Communion, the disciples start arguing with one another about which one of them was considered the greatest. That’s right. Jesus is about to be crucified and his most trusted followers can only think of themselves. My guess is that the whole argument started because of scrambling for positions of honor at the table. Jesus tells them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that (Luke 22:25-26).”
If the disciples are in danger of thinking too much of themselves in Jesus’ very presence, how much more should we be careful. Maybe you don’t go around shouting things like, “I am the besterest!” or stop someone to tell them, “Hey, I’m better than you.” But we do things that sound just as ridiculous. Maybe you’ve heard of the one upper. The person who always has to say something more impressive than whatever you just said. “Oh you got a deer this weekend? Did I ever tell you about the one time I killed two deer with one bullet…from a Nerf gun!?” Do you know someone like that? Then there is the putter-downer, also known as the wet blanket. They like to tell you that whatever you just accomplished is trash because in their mind, you can never live up to what they could have done. “You did all the gardening by yourself? Well, that doesn’t sound that impressive. The flowers look lackluster and you probably should have painted the house while you were out there too.” Know anyone like that? And then, there is the mansplainer. The person, who I admit is usually male, feels they need to explain to you in great detail the things you already know. Why? Because they are the expert and they must know more than you (sarcasm) often despite the fact that the job done by you already lies perfectly completed before their very eyes. How many of you know someone like that?
I think the troubling thing is as we went through those categories, I’m positive there were times I’ve fallen into all three. Most of you have too. And we do these stupid things because we feel so important in our own minds and want people to see it. I felt like I had to prove my worth every day of my existence and so people were going to hear about my accomplishments whether they wanted to or not. So many of us feel the need to put ourselves above others by both raising ourselves up and putting others down. But the truth is, you and I are not as good as we think.
When did you find out you weren’t the best at something? When I look back at my life, I see that God had blessed me with a fair amount of talent. I was able to do well in school, I’ve won a batch of strategy tournaments, I’ve never lost a fight, was the lead in a musical, was challenged by an all-state basketball player from California and beat him, etc. But over the years I’ve come to realize several things. One, is these skills and talents can fade or be taken away. But more importantly, I’ve realized even at the height of my talents, there always was or would be someone better than me in every single one of those categories. I could never claim to be the most honored. And when it comes to being a Christian, God knows I’ve fallen short. One look at Jesus shows that you and I are woefully sinful. We can’t expect God to give us a place of honor at his feast. Wouldn’t we deserve to not be invited at all?
It’s humbling to realize we don’t deserve anything from Jesus, who is so clearly the best when it comes to being perfect and sinless. Yet with this understanding comes humility. And while it doesn’t merit God’s grace, it approaches God saying, “God, I have nothing to bring to you, but I humbly cling to Jesus and what he did on a cross.” And God comes to you and says, “Friend, move up to a better place.” People who think they don’t need anything from Jesus are removed from the feast at the end of the age. Those exalted will be humbled. But in humility, Jesus exalts you.
With this humility comes a certain confidence. You don’t have to go around proclaiming your own merits, because Jesus makes sure you are cared for, honored, and exalted. There is not a single bad spot at his feast. Therefore, be humble, because the Lord has given you undeserved mercy, exalting the humble.
It might not be helpful just to tell you, “Be humble.” So Jesus, after explaining to us why humility is necessary, explains what humility looks like. He says, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your 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,”
What Jesus suggests is the complete opposite of common practice. We understand that still today. When hosting events, we often invite people we know or perhaps people with great influence who we would like to gain favor with. There is nothing wrong with inviting friends and family, but Jesus is touching on a deeper point: Don’t invite people for the hope of receiving something in return. Rather, invite even those who aren’t likely to be able to repay you. In other words, the point is not to bait people into giving greater favors in return but to give charity that flows out of faith. This is what humility looks like. It’s not so much concerned with one’s self, or thinking you are better than everyone else, but instead with serving others who need a Savior just as you do.
The prominent Pharisee holding the feast wasn’t doing this. In fact, upon Jesus’ arrival, they yelled at him when he healed a guy with a swelling condition (v. 2-6). They self-righteously proclaimed it was wrong to heal someone on the Sabbath (it wasn’t wrong). Here was a guy suffering, and again all they were concerned about was looking righteous rather than helping someone.
Jesus is the exact opposite of the Pharisees. He healed the man and he heals us. We are the Lord’s servants and yet he humbles himself to serve even us. He shows us humility by cleansing us through his blood and making us righteous before him. Now the Lord asks us to follow his example. We can’t take away the sins of the world like he did, but we can use our life to serve others. There may not be repayment in this life, but there will be more than enough reward at the banquet of salvation. You will be blessed on the last day filled with heavenly bliss, taking in God’s mercy and the awesomeness of work well done.
But before that glorious meal, we can help set the table now. God wants people of all classes to join him at his great supper of salvation. And the people we invite to our table and share the Word with may very well end up being people sitting at God’s heavenly table at the end of days. God says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” This is what humility looks like.
Remain humble. The Lord has taken sinners like us and has shown us mercy, giving his own life to save ours. Show humility. We can serve others, often without earthly reward because our reward is in heaven. And God promises to exalt those who humble themselves in his name. Amen.