Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Trinity 17 (September 26, 2010)
TITLE: “Jesus Calls You to the Banquet Table”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel lesson just read, with focus on these words: For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
There is a man at the Pharisee’s house that has dropsy. Now this is a particularly painful disease where the joints fill with fluids. I believe it’s called edema today. This disease was painful and very visible, so Jesus could hardly miss seeing this poor man. You can almost see the scene: Jesus looks at the man with dropsy, and the Pharisees and lawyers are wondering to themselves, What is Jesus going to do? Will He heal Him or will He keep the Sabbath? Jews were not allowed to work on the Sabbath, because it was to be a day of rest and reflection on God’s Word.
Now Jesus, knowing their thoughts, answers their unspoken question with a question: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Is it allowed, is it permissible, or who has the right to heal on the Sabbath? But they are silent. They don’t even want to try and answer Jesus question. If they say yes it’s lawful, then they are breaking their own laws. If they say no, it isn’t lawful, then they are denying that Jesus is a prophet, and the people would rile up against them. So they take the easy route out and keep their mouths shut. Jesus then goes and heals the man and lets him go. He releases the man of his sin and of his disease.
Jesus then asks the question: Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” And they could not answer Him regarding these things. Some translations have “son” instead of “ox” in this verse. Which of you having either a son or even an ox, a common animal, if it were to fall into a pit, would you not help it out of the pit on the Sabbath? The answer is “of course you would!” If you are over the ox, if it is your ox and you own it, then it is your responsibility to take care of it. That’s your job. How much more so if it is your child! This reminds us a little bit of the text for two Sundays ago, where Jesus says that if God will take care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, how much more will He take care of you?
That’s what Jesus is getting at. Ownership. If you own something then you take care of it. You do whatever you need to do to keep it safe, so that it can do what it is supposed to do. You don’t go out and buy a new car and never change the oil. It would be bad investing. Or if you were to go buy a house, would you just let the house run down until it was worthless? Of course not! You’d take care of it, pay the bills, do whatever you needed to do.
What Jesus is saying is that God owns you. You are His because you were baptized into His name. You are a part of God’s family. Now it is His work to take care of you. Not yours. You are the one in the pit like the donkey or the son or the ox in our text. You’re stuck, and you can’t get out. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try and scramble to figure it out on your own, you can’t get out.
But this is the point. Because you are God’s child, because God has put His name on you, He has promised to take care of you. He has promised to pull you out of the pit and put you back on dry ground. That is the work of the Sabbath. The word Sabbath means rest, and Jesus says that you have a Sabbath-rest in Him. He’s done the work of your salvation and life. He’s done it all. He is your Sabbath, your final rest. There is no scrambling, not striving after position or salvation in His Church. It is His work to pull you out.
You may have noticed some themes running through all of our readings today. The theme of humility keeps coming through. Humility is seeing yourself as you really are, not as how you wish you are or you want other people to think you are. So the Proverbs say not to take a higher place at the table than you ought. Or Paul in the Epistle says to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In other words, don’t think that you are above what you are. We’re all in this together. We’re all hopeless without God, and we are all called into this one faith. As Paul continued, There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Greatest or least have no place in the Kingdom of God or the church. There are no levels in the Church. We are all on the same playing fields. We may have different work to do here on earth, but before God we are all the same. Either you are His child by faith, or you’re not.
Now to demonstrate this to the Pharisees, Jesus tells the first parable of the Great Banquet. When you’re at a wedding banquet, Jesus says, don’t go to the best place, because when someone more honorable than you comes along, you’ll be forced to move and be embarrassed. Go to the lesser seat, so that the host can place you where he believes you should sit.
In other words, it’s not your party. You are the guest, and the guest doesn’t make the rules and determine where and when and how things work. You go where the host tells you to go, and assume the lesser seat. If the host chooses to move you to a higher place, that is his job, not yours.
Now what does this have to do with faith? The connection is this: The Christian faith is not about positioning making yourself into something you’re not. The fact is that in God’s eyes you’re a sinner and deserve nothing, or what little you do deserve is death. But because God, the great banquet host, is merciful and loving, He puts you into a higher place. He gives you the seat of honor, because He loves you. It’s His banquet, and He will put you where He wants to place you.
Now that’s hard, isn’t it? We all want to be in control of our lives. We want to call the shots. We want to puff ourselves up and hope that people see us as super-Christians. Look at me, I go to church! Look at me, I go to bible class! We turn God’s work of forgiving us and teaching us His Word into a show about us! This is how the Pharisees were. They saw themselves as special, as just a little more deserving of God’s attention, because they thought they were more worthy. But what Jesus is demonstrating in our text is that none of these things are about the Sabbath, none of them help us to keep the Law. In fact, if this is how we look at worship and church, then we miss the point entirely.
Think back again to Luther’s explanation to the third commandment: What is the third commandment? Answer: Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. The Sabbath is about healing and forgiveness. And how does God give you healing and forgiveness? He gives it to you here, in preaching and in His Word. He feeds you at His eternal banquet in the body and blood of His Son. That’s the point. That’s what the Sabbath is about. The Sabbath is about God giving you something. He gives you Himself for the forgiveness of sins.
The Gospel in our text is this. You have been invited to the banquet. You have a place at God’s Table. He loves you and has invited you to dine with Him for all eternity. Perhaps things don’t work out in your life exactly how you would like. Perhaps you wish God would put you some place else. But God is the dinner host. He will place you where you should be, not because of some sort of mistaken sense of the Law, but because He loves you, and He wants to give you the finest of food and drink. He wants to give you Himself. In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.