Humbled and Exalted

Text: Luke 14:1-14

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

My brother got married yesterday. It was a wonderful day full of celebrating with friends and family. The service was very nice, I was the best man and Hannah was the flower girl, we had a lovely time getting some pictures taken and, of course, in the evening there was a reception. The timing of this works out well because in our Gospel reading this morning Jesus talks about a wedding feast. Jesus is at a Pharisees home for supper and, after observing how all of the guests anxiously struggled for the best seats at meal time, Jesus told a little parable. He said, “When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the place of honor lest someone more distinguished than you be invited. Then 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.”

Now, I wouldn’t call my brother’s wedding reception a feast (it was very nice, but not what I would consider a feast), but this is the same kind of thing that Jesus is talking about. When we set up tables at the reception hall on Saturday there were discussions about who should sit where and who should be close to the head table and who should be in the back corner. These kinds of things are always a consideration at weddings. At first, Jesus just seems to be offering some etiquette advice for an event like this: don’t be so presumptuous as to think that you ought to sit in the most honorable position because you might get asked to move and that would be very embarrassing. Seems like good advice; that would be very embarrassing. But as I think about what Jesus is saying here one thing always sticks out to me. Who would do the kind of thing Jesus is describing? Who would presume to sit in the place of honor when the don’t deserve it?  I can hardly even imagine someone deciding to sit in a seat reserved at something like this for a guest of honor. This certainly wasn’t an issue at my brother’s wedding. No one presumed that they ought to sit at the head table with the wedding party when they didn’t really belong there.

No one, or pretty much no one, would be that full of themselves, that arrogant, to think that a seat like that belonged to them when it really didn’t. But Jesus isn’t really talking about how to behave properly at a wedding banquet, that is just an example for the sake of the parable, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God.

In the Kingdom of God “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted,” Jesus says.  

This meal that Jesus is attending at the Pharisees house is not just for anyone. The door is open so that anyone can come in (that is what the rules of hospitality dictated in those days), but not just anybody is getting a seat at that table. It is by invitation only. This is a place for the high and lofty. Jesus is there in the midst of this high and lofty gathering to show them that the kingdom of God is not a place for the high and lofty. The Kingdom of God is a place for the lowly and broken, for the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and everyone else who has nothing to offer. The kingdom of God is for sinners.

Before the meal begins at the Pharisees home, at the beginning of our gospel reading, a man with dropsy wanders into this feast. Dropsy is a nasty disease. We don’t call it dropsy and more, we call it edema. It is a disease that causes swelling and disfigurement as the body retains excessive amounts of fluid. It can be an excruciatingly painful diseases physically and because it disfigured one’s outward appearance it carried social consequences as well. This guy with dropsy certainly wasn’t invited to supper. The other people gathered there probably weren’t thrilled to see him. But Jesus goes right to this man and heals him. Even though it is the Sabbath when nobody was supposed to be working, even though it might not be the right thing today according to the rules of etiquette at a feast like this, Jesus’s eyes of compassion see this man in his need and Jesus responds with healing. This is the difference between the Kingdom of God and this world we live in. The Kingdom of God is for people like that man with dropsy. In his humble need he sought Jesus and Jesus exalted him.

This concept of the humble being exalted and the exalted being humbled seems simple enough, but we have such a hard time understanding it because our sinful hearts don’t understand humility at all. We twist something like this around and make humility some kind of hoop that we need to jump through to make Jesus happy, but humility is not a good work that we do it is a recognition of who we are and what we need.

In His own life, death, and resurrection Jesus shows us what humility is all about. St. Paul traces this out for us in Philippians 2 where he writes: “Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” Jesus, the Son of God through whom the world was made, did not cling to His place at the right hand of God but emptied Himself and was born into our human flesh. He came into our sinful, disease ridden, mortal, dying human flesh and died the death of a criminal for our sake. He humbled Himself beyond anything we could ever even imagine in order to save us from our own lack of humility. But in His death and in His rising from the dead, God the Father has exalted Him and crowned Him with glory and given Him the name that is above every name. And so, when Jesus says in our text today that the humble will be exalted He is really calling us to imitate Him as He humbles Himself and pours out Himself for us.

Our epistle reading from Hebrews 13 picks up on this too. There it says, “Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify people through His own blood. Therefore, let us go with Him outside the camp and bear the reproach that He endured.” In those days cities had walls. Inside the walls is where you kept the things you valued. Outside the walls and gates was the place to dispose of the things you did not want. Jesus was rejected suffered outside the city of Jerusalem, in an area where people dumped their garbage, the things that they did not want. Jesus was rejected, sent away, cast out, and the writer to the Hebrews encourages us to go outside the camp, outside the gate with Jesus a bare the same reproach and shame that he bore. Let us humble ourselves, in other words, as Jesus humbled Himself so that with Jesus we might be exalted because we seek the city, the world that is to come, not glory in this world.

This humility that Jesus is talking about is a complete and total break from the way the world works. It rejoices in weakness, in helplessness, and even in suffering. It is Christian humility that looks at Christ and His humility and understands how much we need what He has done for us. It is humility that puts ourselves in the place of that man who had dropsy so that we understand that we have no right to stand in the presence of Jesus because of the multitude of our sin but we come anyway because we know by faith that He is the one thing that we need to be made well.

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. When we think that we are something and that we are better or more Christian than someone else; when we think that we have everything together and don’t need help from anyone we need to hear these words from Jesus: those who exalt themselves will be humbled. But when we think that we are nothing, when we feel the weight of our sin and its shame, when there is nothing left for us to do but simply beg then we need to hear these words: those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Jesus will raise you up. He will call your dead body to come up from the grave, your humble resting place, and you will be exalted. Death is the ultimate humility, the one event in life that truly shows us that we are not able to save ourselves. We cannot stop ourselves from dying. But Jesus raises us from our humble resting places and will give us new life. In Him and through Him we will be exalted. Amen.

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