The 17th Sunday after Trinity
St. Luke 14:1-11
October 15-16, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Those Pharisees were good churchmen. They avoided controversy. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” It was not an innocent question. The man was obviously in need. But he was also poor. He was an embarrassment. Healing him might have been construed as working, and they didn´t want to be seen breaking the Sabbath. If they had men might have guessed they were sinners. So they looked the other way and kept their mouths shut. That is how we like our preachers.
Jesus healed the man. Then he asked those judging Pharisees what if it was their son or even their ox? They would not hesitate. Neither did He. They still had nothing to say. So He mocked them with a parable about ambition.
If you would exalt yourself be shrewd. Take the lower seat. Appear humble. Then you may be promoted in front of men with honor. But it is risky. The host may not notice. False humility does not like the risk. It is a set up for failure. You have to be noticed or someone else could be promoted beyond you. You must be careful that you are not so humble as to actually go and stay in the lower seat. Seeking approval from men is an endless trap. You can´t win. Men are fickle and strange. Everyone who exalts himself, no matter how much it seems as though he wins, will be humbled. This bad news for us. For we all exalt ourselves.
We never come to the table without ambitions. We never fail to notice who is watching, what they are saying, or how it might play. We plot and strategize. We constantly spin the stories of our lives to make ourselves look better. How many privates go to the PX and buy medals and badges they have not earned? Sometimes officers get busted as well. It is no different with fake or purchased academic degrees? What are these people thinking? Don’t hate them. Pity them. They are so lost in their own fantasies they’ve come to believe them and want you to as well.
None of us is free of fantasies. We´ve wasted long hours day dreaming about what kind of a president we´d be or how we might become a hero or become a knight of the British empire. We have imagined how deftly we´d handle the press, how all Americans would be impressed with our wisdom and wit, how we´d solve international crises with a little bit of homespun, down-on-the-farm common sense. Who do you think that you are? Will you pin a medal of honor on your own chest? Repent. These are not harmless fantasies. They are self-centered delusions. They destroy marriages and alienate children. They are the root of all wars.
The man suffering from dropsy was hardly superior. He´d been humbled, to be sure. Yet he was not without sin. Still, Our Lord saw in him a son trapped in a well. He did not hesitate. He rescued him, healed him. He restored his flesh. He welcomed him to the table as an honored guest. Such is the grace and compassion of God that He loves proud men and will not turn away from them simply because of their sin.
So also, He did not turn His back on the Pharisees who brought Him there to watch Him. They were plotting how to use Him. They meant it for evil, but He meant it for good. His fellowship is inclusive. He wants all men to turn and be saved. He wants all men, even the Pharisees, even the fakes, the liars, the cheats, the adulterers, the afraid, the bureaucrats, and the lazy. He has reconciled all men to His Father in His atoning death and resurrection. He has paid for the sins of those who hate Him. He has paid for you. For He redeemed all the world from death and Hell in perfect, unflinching love and that includes you, no matter how bad, how stupid, how cruel you have been. He loves you. He wants you. You were trapped in death. He could not look the other way. It doesn’t matter if it will tear His clothes or get Him dirty. It doesn’t matter if men think He is a fool or a sinner. No cost, not even the Life of His own Son, is too much. His Love drives Him to save you.
He brings men into this salvation in His preaching. That is why He preaches the Law to the Pharisees. He shames them. He uses it to humble them. They must be emptied of themselves and come as beggars seeking mercy. He preaches this harsh law of humility only that they would recognize they are trapped in a well. For He would hesitate no more to heal them than He did of the man with dropsy. This is His mission: to gain Life for men, to pull them out of death and into Himself.
That is why Our Lord eats with sinners and does not judge in the ways of men. From the Divine perspective our differences are minimal. Judged by the stern standards of the Law there is not much difference between us and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, member of Al-Qaeda, or a member of Charles Manson. We are that bad. We have fallen that short and are not better than them. It is only our pride that has caused us to make comparisons and expect God to be impressed. Imagine Charles Manson in a human court, thinking he is on the judge´s good side because Ahmadinejad is so much worse. The Law seeks to empty us.
Thus we do not approach God because of who we are, because we are so humble or pious or care so much about evangelism, but because of who He is. Our exaltation is not in earthly success and growth, but in the Messiah being lifted up from the earth on those violent timbers outside the city gates. Our glory is that God was born of the virgin to be a sacrifice for our sins. Our hope is that God loves us in Him and welcomes us to the table for His sake. We are a forgiven people, a people who were no people, a heathen nation lost on this dark planet, whom He called from darkness to light, of His own good, gracious, and free will.
Why He loves us is beyond all telling. It is a mystery beyond our ken. But He does. He loves you. He will exalt you in good time. He will heal and deliver you. He will welcome you home: your ambitions scrubbed clean, your pride forgotten, your sole aim to be with Him and do His will, to bask in His grace. Your telling is His work. He will accomplish it in His time and way. It is not a burden, a law you must fulfill. It is God’s promise. His love is beyond all telling, but you tell anyway, not as a slave under orders, but as a free man who has good news, like unto a man who was healed of dropsy.
Of course it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was never God´s day off. It was simply the day for men to rest. Our Sabbath never ends, for in Christ all days are the same, every sunrise is a reminder that death is dead and Jesus lives. The work is done. The healing complete. You are free. Jesus Christ is your health, your rest, your security, and your future. Soon the heaven’s will part and all creation will hear God say to you: “Friend, go up higher.”
In + Jesus´ Name. Amen.