“One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully” (Lk. 14:1). They wanted to trap Him.
But for the Pharisees, this is the status quo. In chapter six verse seven, “The Scribes and Pharisees watched [Jesus], to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.” And in chapter twenty verse twenty, “[The scribes and chief priests] watched [Jesus] and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.”
Today, the Pharisees are watching Jesus carefully, but there’s no mention of why. Of course they’re trying to trap Jesus, but the net the Pharisees set for Jesus ensnares the Pharisees themselves.
Here’s what I mean.
I think the man with dropsy was invited.
Today, we call dropsy edema, and it has a very narrow definition. We might expect the man with dropsy to be there hoping that Jesus would heal him.
But in the ancient world dropsy is the rich man’s disease. “In antiquity dropsy…was [at times analogous] to…physical illness in that the rich, like a person with dropsy, craved more and more of that which they had an excess of and were harmed in proportion as they gained that on which they were already bloated” (Talbert, Reading Luke, 172).
He wouldn’t want to be healed!
The luxurious lifestyles of the rich and famous yield this swelling, of body and mind, a consequence to overindulgence—but not something they would want to be rescued from.
Perhaps Theophilus, to whom St. Luke writes Luke and Acts, would hear “dropsy” and think of the problems of the rich, especially if the sick man was a Pharisee or in their circle.
So we ask: why was the man with dropsy there?
Again, I think he was invited.
I think he’s the guy you invite to your boring party so he’ll invite you to his lavish party.
And what does Jesus notice but ”how they chose the places of honor [for themselves] (Luke 14:7)?
Then, He tells them this parable: “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. 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. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:8-11).
The reversal here is a strange thing.
Table fellowship, where you ate, with whom, what you ate, and certainly where you sat determined your social status.
Like the seating chart at a wedding reception when no one in either family gets along, others will see where you sit and know what the host thinks about you.
There would’ve been a great shock to Jesus words, “Go and sit in the lowest place…”
How would people know how important you are unless you make a stink about having to sit by the back door? When they see the bride or groom add a chair at their table, everyone will know how important you are, right?
And yet, Jesus teaches us that we aren’t as vital to the spin of the earth as we think we are.
A party can still be a party even if you’re not there.
And if you have to sit at the kid’s table, the food will still be delicious, I’m sure.
We overestimate our importance on a daily basis.
In your mind, finish the sentence: “If it weren’t for me…”
Normally, we say and hear that in defense of self.
“If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be as good-lookin as you are,” a father might say to his son. Or, in my case, “If it weren’t for your mother…”
But how do we usually hear this: “If it weren’t for him…”?
Normally, we say and hear that—again—in defense of self.
“If it weren’t for him—and his cheatin’ ways—you’d be number one…If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be in jail…If it weren’t for him, all would be well.”
Our normal way of speaking always comes to our own aid and defense at the expense of the reputation of others.
Jesus, however, teaches us to bear the shameful burdens of those around us without the hope of personal, earthly benefit.
He teaches humility, saying, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. Everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We can’t get around the fact that Jesus is teaching us to humble ourselves, to put the self under and beneath everyone else. To choose the last seat, and not just at meals.
After today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says even more.
To the man who had invited Him, and this is a bit of a paraphrase, Jesus says, “When you have a party, don’t invite your friends or rich neighbors, lest they invite you in return and pay you back. Instead, 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” (cf. Luke 14:12-14).
This goes against everything we know and do.
How many of you invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors to your parties?
And how many of you intentionally invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind?
Our excess really does shame us from time to time.
And it should.
But Jesus keeps talking.
When one of those who reclined at table with Him heard these things, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But Jesus said to him, “A man gave a great banquet and invited many. When ready, he sent his servant saying, ‘Come, for everything is ready.’ But they made excuses. Then the master of the house said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And it was done, but there was still room. So he said, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet’” (cf. Lk. 14:12-24).
Two things should come to mind.
First, you were expected to reject social invitations if they weren’t impressive enough. When those who were invited make excuses, what they’re saying is, “You’re not good enough for me. I’m more important than what you’ve got offer.”
Don’t pretend that doesn’t describe you.
We make excuses all the time—for skipping church, answering the phone, opening mail, and donating to the coffee-can charities at every gas station, Walmart, and Arby’s.
You need your twenty-three cents of loose change more than they do, right?
But this parable also parallels the Jews’s rejection of the Christ and the salvation of the Gentiles. The Jews were the people of God. They had the invitation first. Then the stone the builders rejected became the cornerstone, and the Gospel is preached the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. The Gentiles. Us.
Closing out the chapter, Jesus is no longer at the feast of the Pharisees, but what He teaches makes the same point. He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple…You cannot be my disciple unless you renounce all that you have” (cf. Lk. 14:25, 33).
Money becomes a false-god very quickly.
So does family.
But the proper place of people and possessions is in service to God—not in worship as a god.
Humility is, again, the theme.
Jesus exhorts us to humble ourselves, to love those who can’t pay us back, to realize our need to cherish the invitation, and to renounce all our things—to fear, love, and trust in God alone.
Jesus teaches this, because we suffer from the same spiritual condition as the man with dropsy.
We’re inflated, our egos, our godforsaken pride, we’re, as they say, full of it.
We choose our seats with care every day, every Sunday. Sure to sit by certain people. Sure not to sit by others.
Sure to sit with our family and friends.
Sure to sit away from the children or hope they do.
We invite people who invite us. We invite people who give good gifts. We don’t invite ugly people, and when an ugly person invites us, we’re tremendously, impossibly busy.
In antiquity, dropsy was regarded as the rich man’s disease, but even today, it fits.
Our only hope, then, is the reversal of which Jesus speaks.
The devil means our dropsy to soothe us into his embrace.
But the net he sets for us becomes His snare.
“Behold, there was a man before [Jesus] who had dropsy…He took him and healed him and sent him away” (Lk. 14:2, 4).
The man with dropsy belonged to the Pharisees. He was invited, because he was rich and powerful, the guy you invite so he’ll invite you back.
He was us.
And Jesus took him away from them. He Healed him. And He sent him away.
This is the power the Son of God has to seek and to save the lost.
You don’t belong to satan. You don’t belong to the Pharisees.
You did, but you don’t.
Jesus used the Sabbath to take the man with dropsy, heal him, and send him on to care for the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.
There’s nothing for him with the Pharisees. That’s why Jesus sent him away.
This man, now, would invite all. Feed all. Love all. And forgive all.
Because he has, himself, been invited, fed, loved, and forgiven.
And as Jesus used that Sabbath to heal and save that one man, so He uses this Sabbath to forgive our sins and lead us to everlasting life.
At the cross of greatest grief and shame, Jesus takes the lowest seat of sinners.
There, He is exalted before the world.
And there, the world is justified.
Today, we humble ourselves and receive from our God all things—whatever He gives—and “he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 17 Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt