Sermon for Sunday, August 28th, 2022, the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 112; Ecclesiasticus 10:7-18; Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Text: Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Topic: The Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching on humility and generosity, as recorded in Luke 14:7-14
In a small Jewish town in Russia, a rabbi disappeared each Friday morning for several hours. His devoted disciples boasted that during those hours their rabbi went to heaven and talked to God.
A stranger who moved into town was skeptical, so he decided to check things out. He hid and watched the rabbi. The rabbi got up in the morning, said his prayers, then dressed in peasant clothes. He grabbed an ax, went into the woods, and cut some firewood, which he then hauled to a shack on the outskirts of the village, where an old woman and her sick son lived. The rabbi left them the wood and went home.
The newcomer became the rabbi’s disciple. Now, whenever he hears a villager say, “On Friday morning our rabbi ascends to heaven,” the newcomer adds, “if not higher.”
– Jim McGuiggan: Jesus, Hero of Thy Soul. Howard, 1998.
An invitation of Jesus to a meal with one of the leaders of the Pharisees becomes an occasion for them to observe his conduct. Though the Lord Jesus is being watched closely, he uses this opportunity to teach his host and fellow-guests two important lessons in humility and generosity.
The first of these two lessons arises from Jesus’ observation of how the guests choose the places of honor. Earlier in the Gospel account of St. Luke, Jesus denounces the Pharisees for wanting the best seats in the synagogues (Luke 11:43). Today we are not sure which seats were regarded as the best seats at that time, as the prevailing Jewish, Roman, Greek, and Persian customs differed on this matter. Perhaps, the seats closest to the host were seen as more honorable than others. In any case, the Lord’s advice to the guests was that even at a more formal event than the one to which they had now been invited, such as a wedding, where the ranking of places of honor was more important, they should not go and sit down at the place of honor. The reason for this is that that place might have been reserved for someone higher-ranking than them in the view of the host, and they would be ashamed to have to move to the lowest place. Instead, each guest should deliberately avoid the place of honor, and take the lowest place. Then the host may say to him, “Friend, move up higher” ((Luke 14:10b, NRSV), and then all the guests will honor him. This piece of advice, called a parable in Luke 14:7, is based on the traditional wisdom of taking a modest place at a feast:
Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.
(Proverbs 25:6-7, KJV)
This lesson on humility when one is invited to a feast, is reinforced by a general proverb that teaches humility as opposed to pride:
For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
(Luke 14:11, KJV)
The Lord repeats this same proverb at the end of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). It is clearly a proverb contrasting the humiliation of the proud to the exaltation of the humble. As such, it reiterates a theme found in the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). This is the principle of divine reversal. St. James in his Epistle expresses the same principle in this way:
Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
(James 1:9-10, KJV)
In this divine reversal we share, the more we conform ourselves to the mind of Christ and are renewed according to his word.
In fact, the Lord now addresses his host, essentially inviting him to actively initiate this principle of God’s kingdom. Invite those to your feast or banquet who cannot repay you or invite you back in return: “the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13b, KJV). His reward for doing this will then be given him at the resurrection of the righteous.
Both lessons are still instructive today. The first lesson is a lesson in humility, by which we always consider others better and deserving of more honor than ourselves. This means we shall not be trying to feather our own nests but paying attention to the needs and wants of others. St. Paul teaches along these lines in his Epistle to the Philippians:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
(Philippians 2:3-4, KJV)
The second lesson instills generosity to those in need. This was not a popular motive for giving a banquet, either in New Testament times or now. Political parties will gladly hold fundraising dinners for hundreds of dollars a plate, but the idea of giving meals to the needy is often left to soup kitchens, charities, and some churches to implement.
If we are tempted to think that neither of these situations applies to us – looking for the best seats at banquets or giving banquets to the poor, maimed, lame, and blind, then we should realize that the Lord Jesus is giving us pictures of righteous behavior characterizing his kingdom, embodying the virtues of humility and generosity. What we must ask ourselves is how we are to reflect humility and generosity in our own lives.
 p. 183, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.