Summary: Jesus uses two parables about banquets to teach that the truly righteous live by grace, which means humility and love.
September 12, 2004 — 15th Sunday after Pentecost
Christ Lutheran Church, Columbia, MD
Pastor Jeff Samelson
The Way of Grace Is Clearly Different
I. In How We Think of Ourselves
II. In How We Treat Others
III. In How We Are Rewarded
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Word of God for our study this Sunday is found in our Gospel, Luke 14:1,7-14:
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched….
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “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 man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But 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 your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
This is the Gospel of our Lord
Dear Friends in Christ:
Jesus often taught using parables. In fact, Mark tells us in his Gospel that Jesus “did not say anything to [the people] without using a parable” (Mark 4:34). Once, Matthew writes, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:10-16)
So Jesus not only expected, but in some cases intended, that the Pharisees and all the people that opposed him and his message would not understand what he meant when he used a parable. Certain things that he had to say were only for the ears and hearts of believers — they would have been wasted on his enemies.
But this time, at this prominent Pharisee’s Sabbath dinner, Jesus spoke in parables that even the most self-righteous and hostile Pharisee would understand. There may not have been any believers in the house that day, but anyone there who heard would have understood.
Which means that I probably don’t have to work very hard to explain the meaning of the two parables Jesus spoke in our Gospel today. Even with 2000 years and a different cultural context separating us from Jesus’ audience, you can likely relate to how certain people have too high an opinion of themselves, and you can imagine the intense embarrassment someone would feel to be escorted, before everyone else’s eyes, from the place of greatest honor down to the place of least honor. And you yourself probably know people who pretty much only go out of their way or do nice things for people who can do something for them. Just think of the number of guest lists for weddings that have been determined by the size of the gifts the people invited might bring.
And since the meaning of what Jesus had to say at this Sabbath dinner was quite clear and vividly illustrated, the point Jesus was making was also clear. Jesus was not really that concerned about telling dinner guests where to sit or hosts whom to invite. What he really wanted to get through everyone’s heads — and hearts — was that the way they believed, thought, and acted was not God’s way. It wasn’t — and isn’t — the way truly righteous people behave, because believers are not concerned with self-promotion and self-glorification. Christ’s way is clearly different, and Jesus wanted these Pharisees — and everyone, really — to look to God’s grace instead of their own interests.