Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Recline at the last place [at the table], [says our Lord,] so that the host might come and say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” Then you will be glorified before all the ones who recline at table together with you. Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (St. Luke 14.10-11; my translation)
This glory for the one asked to go up to the more prominent place at the table is in contrast to the one who is ashamed as he is asked to go down to a lower place, having assumed for himself a more honored and distinguished place of honor.
Next month I’ll be attending former Vicar Stecker’s wedding in New Haven, Indiana, near Fort Wayne. I anticipate knowing very few people there. I plan to just be there to be supportive of our former vicar, to honor his marriage, and to represent Immanuel and my own family, as I know we pray God’s blessing and grace upon his marriage. Only there to observe this wedding and not a family member, I will dare not go to the head of any table, because I almost certainly will be asked to go to the rear of the line.
Yet, truly, is this word of our Lord Jesus’ parable simply dinner party advice? Is this only how to have proper social graces and etiquette and not act like a prude at big occasions?
On the face of it, we should indeed handle ourselves with humility in every situation. It is much better never to presume too much about yourself. Be a gracious guest, think of others more highly than yourself. Certainly this is sanctified Christian behavior.
But there is more to our Lord’s call to humility. It is a call to be His disciple. Disciples of Jesus pick up the cross and follow Him.
It is not in our nature to be a humble follower of anyone. Instead we all tend to be the biggest fan of “me, myself, and I.” We have a lot of pride in ourselves and in our accomplishments. We compare ourselves to those around us, and it’s easy to seek to feel better about ourselves at other’s expense. “I’m not as bad off as that person… I’m not a criminal at least like that person…” Etc.
And we choose what benefits “me, myself, and I” first, and fail to even consider the neighbor’s needs. Case in point, we hear today about the Pharisees in the Gospel reading, who are at the Sabbath meal meant to be a remembrance of God’s saving love for Israel. Instead, they look to use what is holy to exalt themselves at the expense of blaspheming Jesus and ignoring the needs of the man suffering from dropsy. That’s every sinner. Prideful and vain enough to abuse something meant for our good. Every time we sin, we are exalting ourselves above God and His Word, breaking the first commandment.
Pride is traditionally the sin of rebellion associated with the fall of Satan from heaven. Satan became prideful and sought be exalted above God and the other angels in heaven, and so he and his rebellion was cast out of heaven.
Thus the Holy Spirit inspires the writer of the Proverbs to say this:
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. (Prov. 16:18–19; ESV)
Whoever gives thought to the word of God, the Proverbs goes on to say, will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. The opposite of pride and a haughty spirit is to humble one’s self before the word of God – which is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, baptized into His life and death, who humbly sits and learns from Him all things whatsoever He commands. (Mt. 28.19) The spoil of the proud, on the other hand, is God’s eternal wrath and destruction.
Humility, says an old church father, is the emptying of ourselves. To confess that we do not have the answers and to look to the One who does have them.
Humility, says that same church father, endures suffering and wrongs done against with patience, and without comment, as Jesus did. The Savior reminds us and shows us how to turn the other cheek when our enemy strikes us – but we worry about the wrongs done against us, and vanity takes over – we deserve better, we are tempted to say, as if we are the only one who has ever suffered. Here we remember that our Lord Jesus was stricken, smitten, and afflicted, yet opened not His mouth to complain.
Finally, humility submits to all other people, as Jesus did, who counted Himself nothing. There is the call from God to love Him above all other things, and then, here among our neighbors, to love them with no strings attached, with our whole heart, as we love ourselves. This means we place others always before ourselves, following our Lord,
…Who, though he was in the form of God, 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. (Php. 2:6–8; ESV)
Jesus Christ willingly took the lowest place when He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on a cross, and in His resurrection and ascension the Father said, “Friend, move up higher.”
Our Lord took the low place so that your sins of pride and vanity and self-exaltation and all other rebellion against God and His Word would be overcome and defeated. He paid for your sins with His holy, precious blood, His innocent, willing suffering and death, His emptying of Himself for you. He endured every suffering and evil inflicted with not one complaint. Although He was King of all, He lovingly submitted to the strange order of Him being made servant of us all – that whosoever humbly believes in this crucified and resurrected Lord and Savior would have everlasting life, would in Him be declared and considered to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. On His account, when the Father said to His Son in His resurrection and ascension, “Friend, move up higher,” He has said it to you, the baptized, the ones who have humbly received His Kingdom like a little child, with humble, childlike faith. Everyone who humbles himself in this way, in His Kingdom, will be exalted.
Jesus said in the parable, Recline at the last place [at the table], so that the host might come and say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” (St. Luke 14.10; my translation)
Today, our Lord and Savior calls us to lives of humble faith, gentleness and meekness towards our neighbors, patience in suffering, love for God and His Holy Word and love for the neighbor that bears with them even in their faults and failures. After the events of this past week, where so many have been harmed and killed senselessly, and as our sons continue to fight wars around this globe, and as our country and all of western civilization continues in its ugly vanity and overt hubris to crumble apart into degeneracy, it is clear that it is always the time for disciples of Jesus to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of our Baptism into Christ, to stand in sharp contrast to the world, to humbly be salt and light to this dark world, confessing in our words and deeds the saving cross of the Savior who willingly humiliated Himself to save every sinner.
The politicians and pundits can come up with all the earthly solutions they want to prevent tragedy and sorrows, but all will ultimately fail, without people who humbly submit to lives of faith and repentance in the Lord Jesus Christ, who look away from themselves and look in faith to His saving cross and life-giving resurrection, and walk in the manner worthy of their calling, bearing the Christ-like fruits the Apostle exhorts them to: humility, meekness, gentleness, patience, love for others.
The Lord does not call you to walk with Him in this way, and then leaves you alone to figure it out. But instead He comes to you here, and strengthens you, by His Holy Spirit, to follow Him and bear the daily crosses of your life, to walk with Him through this life. Here, the exalted Savior Himself humbly comes from heaven, both host and meal in the Blessed Sacrament. Here He freely brings you forgiveness and everlasting good. Here, humbly reclining with Him at His table, He gives you a foretaste of that great day when every believer will be exalted with Him in His heavenly banquet. There will be a day when humbly bearing the cross in faith will end, and will be rewarded, and you will walk out of your grave, and the Father will say, “Friend, go up higher.”
Humble yourselves now, at this rail, under the mighty hand of the Lord, so that at the proper time He may exalt you,
“…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you… And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you…” (1 Pet. 5.7-11; ESV)
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +