1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.
2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 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?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.
7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “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, 9 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. 10 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. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
12 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. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Some dinner party this was. Did you feel it in the text? Awkward! Eyes are darting around the room. Everybody is watching each other, and every look is critical. It isn’t just to see who foolishly uses the dinner fork to eat their salad. No! The Pharisees are carefully watching Jesus, just waiting to catch Him doing something wrong. And Jesus has His eyes on them, watching as they stumble over each other for seats of honor. So much for Sabbath rest at this dinner party – it’s exhausting.
The Pharisees are watching for good reason because it appears that they have set up this whole scenario. Somewhere in the crowd is a man with dropsy. Pockets of fluid are collecting in his body tissue, and he has swelling all over. Jesus sees this grotesque-looking man, and knowing the Pharisees are watching His every move, He asks, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
They refuse to answer the question, but Jesus doesn’t care what answer they might have given. Jesus looks at this swollen man just as He looks at all sinners – like a mother looks at her child in the cancer ward. Or, even better, Jesus looks upon sinners like a mother looks at her child who has been rightly convicted of murder and is hours from execution on death row (Pedersen). Jesus sees this man’s need, and He has mercy.
The dining room turns into a doctor’s office and the buffet becomes an exam table. “Move the turkey legs out of the way. Slide those potatoes across. You might want to cover the salad bowl. Time to get this bloated, swollen man healed. Ok. Now that that’s done, let Me ask you – which of you, would leave your son or even your ox in a well if it fell in on the Sabbath?”
Now, instead of refusing to reply, the other dinner guests can’t reply. There they sit, dumber than oxen who don’t even realize they have fallen into a well. The question convicts them, and they are like dead men. Despite their deadness and hatred of Him, Jesus still loves them. His desire is to save them too.
So Jesus tells this parable which is a retelling of Proverbs 25:6-7. Now, we could take this parable as an etiquette lesson: Sit low and get honor by being paraded through the party to a higher seat. But that flies in the face of what Jesus is actually doing. Jesus wants to show them true humility. And pretending to be humble in order to get everyone’s attention isn’t true humility.
This parable is all about Jesus. It tells of His path from glory down to earth and even hell and back again. Jesus was removed from the place of honor at His Father’s right hand in order to make room for you. Jesus was humiliated (Php. 2:5-11). He took the form of a servant. God was found in human form. When we sinners saw God in the flesh, we pinned Him to a cross.
But, then, God does the strangest thing. He takes you who are sitting in the muck and mire of your sin. Because God sees that Jesus’ seat is open, He invites you to move up. You are invited to sit at the table He prepares for you. He anoints your head with oil and makes sure your cup is never set down empty.
Then, from the lowest place, Jesus is raised up. At His name, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Notice what Jesus says is the lesson of the parable, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He doesn’t give you something to do by saying, “Be humble.” Pride is your problem, but you can’t overcome pride by humility. To think that you can fix your pride is, by definition, prideful. The anecdote for your pride is not you being humble – it is grace. Grace which is never merited or earned. Grace that is pure gift, pure mercy, pure love.
You have been honored by Jesus’ grace. And as you sit in that seat of honor, you are humbled because of what Christ has done, for you
That is why Jesus, your Savior, still invites you, “Come up higher. Sit here. Yes here! Come and receive what you could not earn or buy. Come and receive what you aren’t even clever enough to ask for. Come and receive My grace, My forgiveness, My mercy.” Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.