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Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’m not sure I would want to invite Jesus to my dinner party. A lot of people talk about “inviting Jesus in,” but if they were at this party in Luke 14, they might change their minds. Jesus is invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner on a Sabbath. And look what He does. First, He does something intentionally provocative—maybe even more provocative than bringing up politics at the house of someone who is on the opposite side from you! The Pharisees are watching Him, and He answers them—not what they say, but what they’re doing. He answers and says, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? He already knows their answer, and so He heals a man when they don’t say anything.
Not too long before this, He’d healed another person in a synagogue, and the leader of the synagogue said to the people, You’ve got six other days on which to be healed. Come on those days, not on the Sabbath! Seems reasonable, but Jesus isn’t interested in that kind of reasoning. He’s interested in what the Sabbath is for, and it’s precisely for people like this, who need rest, restoration, and healing. It’s not about keeping some rules. And, in fact, they don’t even keep those rules when it comes to themselves. The question that Jesus asks them about a son or an ox is a question that answers itself. Of course they would pull out of the well a son or an ox! But they don’t want Jesus pulling this man out of his sickness.
So He heals on the Sabbath. And then He embarrasses the guests at the party. He’s been watching them maneuver for the best seats. We don’t really have anything like this. No one’s fighting over the front seats in here. And if people come over to our houses for dinner, we usually don’t have reserved seating. Maybe if you were somewhere where someone famous was eating, you might try to do this, but it’s not really the same. Here, the best seats were the seats closest to the host. Those were the most important seats. And that’s where these people were trying to get.
But Jesus calls them out. When you’re invited to a party, He says, don’t sit in the most important seat. What if the host has invited someone more important than you? Then you’ll have to get up in front of everyone and take whatever seat happens to be left. Instead, you should take the worst seat, and then it’s very likely that the host will come and say, “Friend, move up higher.” The one who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Strike two.
And finally, after provoking the Pharisees and embarrassing the rest of the guests, Jesus insults His host by telling him he shouldn’t have invited the people that he did invite. He should have invited the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind instead, people who couldn’t invite him to their houses and so he’d be repaid for what he’d done. He’d be blessed, though, because he’d be repaid at the resurrection of the just.
I think maybe you’d want to leave Jesus off the guest list. Who knows what He might say? And it just gets worse after this, because this isn’t the end of the parable. It goes on for another 10 verses, after someone piously tries to bring Jesus into line by talking about the blessing of eating bread in the eternal Sabbath in the kingdom of God. Jesus tells about “a certain man” who had a party. He invited many people. But when the party is finally ready, all the people He invited had reasons why they couldn’t come to the party. It’s almost like the “certain man” had been promising this party for thousands of years, and now it’s finally happening, and the people who had the invitations all along decided they didn’t want this party.
Some of them bought land and had to go check it out. Some of them bought oxen and had to make sure they were good. Some were married and couldn’t come. And it’s not like any of those things are bad. It’s not bad to buy land or buy oxen to plow your land or get married. They’re only bad when you choose them over the party that the Lord of the house is throwing precisely for you! When the Lord throws a party, what could possibly be better? But people choose all sorts of things all the time. Sometimes we’d rather be anywhere else than at the party of the Lord.
But when the servants come back and report what happened, the Lord sends them back out to get exactly the sorts of people that Jesus mentions here, and in the same order: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. The other people, who belonged at the party—or at least thought they deserved to be there—they’re not going to be there. And a whole bunch of people who don’t deserve to be there, who have literally no right to be in the house of the master and know it—those are exactly the people who get invited in. And there’s always a place for one more, a place where the master of the house can say to people who don’t deserve to be there: friend, come up here. Come sit here.
We thought Jesus was talking about our houses and our parties. But this is a parable, and a parable is never about us. It’s about Him and about His kingdom. The plot twist is that this isn’t our house and it’s not our party. It’s God’s. And when He invites you in, take the lowest place. And so we do: I, a poor, miserable sinner. Have mercy on me, a poor, sinful being. I cannot free myself from my own sinful condition. And what does Jesus say? Friend, come up higher. I forgive you all your sins. Come in to My house. Come sit at My table. Come share My celebration. Come eat My feast. I’ve prepared it for you. It’s ready. Where else would you want to be?
But it’s a strange party. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, especially for those who think they have a right to be in the Lord’s House at the Lord’s party—which, if we’re honest, sometimes we all think that. That’s the favorite language of the sinful flesh: my rights; this is what I deserve; I deserve to be here. But what makes it really bad is that this party looks like death to the world. It looks like crucifixion and it looks like Jesus, shameful outside the city. But Hebrews says that that’s actually where God’s party is: outside the camp, sharing in Jesus’ shame and reproach and death. Because Jesus’ death is the only way into this party.
And once we know that, then we know who belongs here. The last and least, the poor, crippled, lame, blind, in body or soul. And then we can let brotherly love continue and not neglect to show hospitality to all those who are like us. I mean, if God has invited the likes of us, then there’s no one He won’t invite in! This party is especially for everyone who’s going to die. Because to the dead, who have taken the last place ever, in the grave, Jesus can say, “Friend, come up here out of the ground. Share My eternal life.” And on that day, at the resurrection of the just, who share in the righteousness of Christ, the celebration will begin in earnest. The party is only just getting started.
So come up here and have a taste. Here, at this table, in these seats. Share in the glory and exaltation of the risen Son, ascended to the right hand of the Father. Eat and drink. And if He has invited us in, there’s no one He won’t invite.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/30/19