“HUMBLED THAT WE MAY BE EXALTED”
Text: Luke 14:1-14)
Sunday August 28th, 2022 – Pentecost 12
Trinity – Creston/Mount Ayr
Grace, mercy, and peace is yours from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
Our text for this 12th Sunday after Pentecost is the Gospel lesson from Luke14 that was just proclaimed.
Let Us Pray: Dearest Jesus, send your Holy Spirit to remind that your love for us is eternal and never ends. When we face trials and discipline in life, may we always trust that we are enduring these for the sake of preparing us or others for eternity. Amen.
Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ:
We were boarding the aircraft, and my line loaded at the front of the plane, at the back of first class. Flight attendants had trays with champagne and chocolate. I looked at one with a smile on my face, but my ticket reminded me quite unmistakably, “Not for you. Keep moving.”
I turned to the right and entered the business-class section. The seats were wide; there was plenty of legroom. Each station had its own TV monitor. In the back, in the corner, there was a snack bar. People were having their glasses filled with wine and grabbing some crackers and cheese. I hesitated.
As if knowing my thoughts, another flight attendant looked at my ticket, and her expression politely but clearly said, “Keep moving.” I passed through a curtain. I’m not familiar with time-space displacements, but I know I experienced one when I went through that curtain. A whole different airplane!
Gone were the drinks, the snacks, the wide seats, and the legroom. I entered what felt like the cattle car of the airline industry. It was noisy, the seats looked way past prime, and I had to make myself skinny between fellow passengers as I muscled my carry-on into the cramped overhead compartment.
While our culture doesn’t spend a great deal of time on the topic of stations in life, we still, 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. Usually we don’t like it. And that means we’re 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 seems to be aimed with deadly accuracy at the lifestyle that many of us consciously or subconsciously 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. They took the fruit and ate it, and in a literal sense, all hell broke loose.
No longer did they walk with God. They ran from God. They hid in shame. Once they knew how to speak only words of truth to God; now they spoke lies and deception. Eve’s temptation, her sin, inspired by a desire to exalt self, broke everything. It broke their relationship with God. It broke their relationship with the world around them. It broke their relationship with each other.
The pain of that broken relationship can be felt as Adam, who just a few verses earlier said those tender words of love, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” now says, “It’s that woman you gave me! She did this!”
Luke 14 contains three teaching moments that describe the depth of the brokenness caused by self-exaltation. 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 not only demonstrates the impact of self-exaltation on our lives, but he also demonstrates our desperate need for healing.
The opening sentence sets a rather ominous tone to the chapter. One Sabbath, Jesus is invited to eat at the house of a prominent Pharisee. The text says, “They were watching him carefully.” The “they” were Jesus’ enemies, later called out as Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Imagine as Jesus and his disciples are walking toward this prominent Pharisee’s house. Perhaps the disciples were feeling good. They often debated the question of greatness. Here, a prominent Pharisee invited Jesus to eat at his 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 to the left, down the aisle, not even to business class, but into the luxury of the first-class section of town. Perhaps they didn’t see the intense scrutiny for the trap it was, or perhaps they did but were confident that Jesus would overcome. The text says that Jesus was walking and they were watching, 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.” A man suffering with dropsy. I used to think that dropsy was an old way of describing narcolepsy—you know, the guy is standing awake one minute and then he’s dropping to the ground asleep.
But dropsy refers to someone who has an excess of fluid that builds up in one part of the body. Some commentators suggest that the common understanding in Jesus’ day held that this condition was the result of sexual immorality. There was actually a test for marital unfaithfulness in the Old Testament that looked for a swelling of the abdomen (Num 5:11–28).
It’s possible that this person had just shown up, but I’d bet that he was a plant, a trap. You see, it’s the Sabbath. It’s illegal to work on the Sabbath. So Jesus is walking into the room, the Pharisees are staring, and the crowds are anticipating. It all stops when Jesus 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: When you are blind, you can stare all day long and not see a thing, right? It’s not the car you see that you hit; it’s the car you don’t see that you hit. They, 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.
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. V 4: “Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 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?’ And they could not reply to these things” (vv 4b–6).
Jesus saw a man who perhaps had not been seen for years because of his condition. In compassion for this broken man, Jesus spoke the words of life and healing. To be healed must have been amazing for that man, but to be seen as a possession of the Most High would be divine. Our drive to exalt self-blinds us to the needs of others around us. It breaks our sense of community as we cease to notice and care for others.
Pause with me a moment. As I wrote these words, I tried to remember my walk to work or my shopping trip last night. I wonder how many people I passed whom I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice them because of my drive to get my stuff done. In my blindness, I missed opportunities to love and opportunities to witness God’s redeeming love.
How about you? Do you see and yet not perceive those in need around you? It may be the pesky guy at work or the neighbor you avoid because she can’t stop talking. I want you to know that there is life in seeing those who need to be seen. In truth, 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. It’s a bit different from some of the more familiar parables, those, for example, featuring a farmer, a builder, or a servant. In this parable, you are the main character: “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 arrayed with fantastic food and treats to delight the guests. But, as with all things, the wedding party table has the best of everything. Their champagne glasses are crystal. Their plates are fine china. A waiter attends to their every need.
You know you don’t belong there, so you willingly pass the first-class section, move to the right, down the aisle. 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. A couple of waiters manage the crowd of a dozen or so tables. You find the best seat in this second section. That’s where you sit. When more people start filling the seats, you’re so thankful that you’re not in the back of the room—you know, the coach section.
Then the father of the bride walks up to you. Optimistically, you look up. Obviously, he’s going to call you up to the wedding party table. Sure, you don’t know them well, but with your great personality and your amazing wit, you would be the life of any party.
You know what happens next. It’s worse than just having to be seated in the coach section of the celebration hall. You are publicly humiliated by the bride’s father because he calls you out as one not worthy of the plastic plates and champagne flutes. You are sent to paper plates and folding chairs in the back of the room—the coach section of the hall. Humiliation is a miserable thing!
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 know what I’m talking about. 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 that everyone sees through the 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 because someone who sees him for what he is speaks a painful word of truth.
The person in this parable took a seat of honor because he didn’t realize his own imperfections. Sadly, by taking the best seat, he missed an opportunity to be honored with the better seat. Isn’t it true, that when we try to make ourselves look better than we are in the eyes of others, we end up looking worse?
Jesus uses another parable to describe the third brokenness of self-exaltation. Again, we are the center character. Jesus doesn’t want to risk us missing the point that he’s speaking to us. The parable is simple, and its message is profound.
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. You’ve got something to celebrate. Perhaps it’s a job promotion. Perhaps it’s a wedding. Perhaps it’s the birth of a child or a grandchild. You want to celebrate, and you want people to join in your celebration. 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. They may not help you advance in your status, but it will demonstrate to them just how successful you already are. The fact that they’ll feel obligated to repay you is an added bonus. You gain prestige but risk few resources.
While we can recognize the need to notice people and the dangers of self-exaltation, we struggle with this parable. Many believe that Jesus might have gone just a bit too far. Sure, we may not say it, but 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.
I find it disturbing in myself that my view of hospitality is so broken that the very thing Jesus says not to do seems normal, and the thing he tells me to do seems crazy. James says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people!” (James 4:1–4).
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.
I want you to notice something very important. V 11 is an opportunity as much as it is a challenge. 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. Oh, but this, too, can become a practice in self-exaltation. My repentance can become my attempts to better myself in the eyes of God and others. The Pharisees came to be baptized by John, not because they thought they needed Baptism, but because they didn’t want others to think poorly of them. The heart of repentance is dependence on Christ.
The separation of self-exaltation is defeated by Christ. Eph 2:12–14 is a declaration of certainty. In Christ, our brokenness is healed, and no longer are we separated from God: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”
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: fear.
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.”
In place of fear that leads to brokenness and separation, God gives us faith and his perfect love. 1 Jn 4:18: “Perfect love casts out all fear.” Never again need we fear being overlooked and unloved, for by his death and resurrection Christ has honored us with every good thing.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.