The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2010
Rev. Steven D. Spencer – Pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church
One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" But they remained silent. 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. Now he 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. 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." 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. But when you give a 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."
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
Several years ago there was a program on TV that maybe some of you remember, Happy Days! Our Gospel lesson for today reminded me of one episode in particular. It was the episode where Richie Cunningham, Potsie Weber and Ralph Malph were invited to a party. Three beautiful young ladies walk into Arnold’s Drive Inn and invite these normal, exceedingly average teenagers to a party as their dates. Oh imagine the thrill! Finally they were moving up the social ladder, they were now on someone’s A list. These women didn’t even try to change them. They liked ever thing about them, from their plaid jackets right down to their argyle socks. Potsie’s date even complemented his choice of pocket protector. This was important because Ralph and Richie were always teasing him, Potsie you’re such a nerd. How exciting these three young men were to be the guests of honor at a party with these young, OH!, did I fail to mention these women belonged to a gang? The gang’s name was called the She Devils. They were not going to be the guest of honor and the party was a nerd party. The person that brought the biggest nerd won a prize. They were not the guest of honor, they were the entertainment. They would be ridiculed, scorned and mocked. They would be laughed at and humiliated.
But like most Happy Days episodes Fonzie would come to the rescue. He would pretend to be a nerd. Fonzie would bring some reciprocity. Pretending to be a snail collector named Ardee he was invited to the party. He would shed his costume and resume his coolness. And in a way that only Fonzie could, he would stop the party and declare that the She Devils were the true nerds from the inside out.
Reciprocity, what goes around comes around. The Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31). The Bible is full of examples of reciprocity. Because the Bible is written in agricultural language probably the best example is: You reap what you sow! (Galatians 6:7). If you sow corn, you reap corn. If you sow beans you reap beans. If you sow wheat, you reap wheat. But also true is that if you sow thistle, tares, brambles or a noxious weed that is what you will get. RECIPROCITY! If you are mean and nasty to others, then others will tend to be mean and nasty towards you. Reciprocity! If you are caring and kind to others, then they will tend to be the same towards you. Reciprocity!
In our text today Jesus is invited to dine with some Pharisees. This was a common custom in Jesus day. An honored guest, a teacher or someone with status would be invited to dine with you. There was a saying at the time, Invite a man of honor into your home and your household will receive honor. People with status were invited to dinner to bring status to that home. Neighbors, friends, family would be invited to see what company you kept. Even though that was the way things were done, don’t be fooled by appearances. Jesus wasn’t invited to be the guest of honor any more than Richie, Ralph or Potsie were. Jesus was that evening’s entertainment.
The first verse in our reading says: “they were watching Him carefully” (Luke 14:1). What were they hoping to see? The next verse tells us. “Behold, there was a man before Him with dropsy”. For anyone that doesn’t know, Dropsy is edema. Edema is the building up of fluid. It’s more prominent in the lower legs and feet toward the end of the day as a result of pooling of fluid from the upright position usually maintained during the day. The legs can grow several times larger than normal. There is a visible bagginess that exists when dropsy is present. It’s hard to move and would become very visible. Evidently it was very visible that day because the text says: “Behold, there was a man before Him with dropsy”. How did the man get there? The dinner was at a Pharisee’s house. This would have been an enclosed area where only those invited would have attended. This was a man with disease. He was unclean! He wouldn’t have been allowed in. Who invited him? Who let him in? The Pharisees knew – because they did it! They were testing Jesus. How do we know? Verses 2 & 3 tell us. “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees”. Who did Jesus respond to? Jesus responded to the lawyers (those scribes) and the Pharisees. Why? Because they were testing Him!
The lawyers and the Pharisees didn’t invite Jesus to the dinner as a guest of honor, He was the entertainment. There they were hoping to ridicule, scorn and mock Him. They wanted Him to be laughed at and belittled and humiliated. In Happy Days it was so easy. The Fonz would show up and straighten it all out with a little reciprocity. But Happy Days is just TV and this was real life. Oh, there will be reciprocity, you can count on it. But it will be divine reciprocity.
Rather than exchanging haughtiness for haughtiness Jesus acts humbly. Not concerned for self but for that one in need, for the man with dropsy. Divine reciprocity doesn’t return evil for evil. So He heals the man and teaches the ignorant. By healing on the Sabbath Jesus shows that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. But once He provided for that man’s need He sets His heart on teaching some table manners to those Scribes and Pharisees.
He teaches about bad table manners and directly refers to the particular attitude of individuals. One should never presume a place near the head of the table for this reflects a haughty and arrogant heart and a presuming spirit. Only someone filled with pride and self-importance would stroll into the house and up to the front for a place towards the head table, actually expecting to be served the supper first. Perhaps you’ve seen someone who has been directed from the head table because, in either their arrogance or ignorance, they should not have been there. It’s embarrassing and humiliating when someone is told to return where they belonged and sit down. I’ve actually have seen this happen at weddings. This is the sinful attitude of many whose minds are so curved in on themselves that they are not even aware of the dreadful perspective they have concerning themselves and others.
The attitude of the individuals who are guests for the meal should be that of humility, “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The humble individual recognizes that it is by invitation that he is even permitted in the house. She is the woman who is satisfied to receive even the crumbs that fall from the children's table (Mark 7:28). “He is like the sinner who came to the Temple, slipped into the back, kept his head down and confessed, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). One should seek a seat at the lowest table and be thankful for this place in the house and at the Host's Table.
When one goes to a wedding the focus is not on self. It’s on the bride and groom. And this is the problem that our text addresses. The focus of the Pharisees is not on the bride or the groom but on themselves, sitting in a place of status, show casing their own works, and trying to promote self. They’re curved in on themselves, they’ve lost focus.
Jesus challenges them to something new, Divine Reciprocity! Here’s the formula for divine reciprocity as stated by Jesus: "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. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." Don’t just invite family, friends or loved ones. You know they will invite you to meal of like type. That’s standard reciprocity. Besides inviting them is really like inviting yourself to meal at their home in the future. Instead, invite those who can’t repay you. That’s divine reciprocity!
Let me give you some other examples of divine reciprocity. When someone hits you on one cheek, give them the other. When someone shows you evil, show them good. When someone hates you, love them. Jesus in sharing these words is sharing something else. It’s alright to eat with the poor and the crippled, with the lame and the blind, with the despicable and the unclean. These are the ones Jesus came to save, those who cannot repay Him. Did you catch that?
Jesus came to save those who cannot repay Him. He invites the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, the despicable and the unclean, all sinners to the feast. - Those that humble themselves, those not trying to move to the head of the table by their own works. - Those who understand their humble sinful estate. He invites them to a feast for the forgiveness of their sins. He invites them to His Table for there His Divine Reciprocity takes their sin and replaces it with His life. For through His body and blood comes life everlasting. For through His body and blood comes the forgiveness of sins. For through His body and His blood comes the resurrection unto life everlasting. That is Divine Reciprocity, and that is God’s promise to you. - For you are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind who cannot repay. But Jesus has paid for you, He has paid with His life so that don’t have to pay with yours. And that is Divine Reciprocity. The gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus and His blood! Is it fair? Not at all but that’s divine love. For in Jesus all your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forevermore, Amen and amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN