Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, November 15, 2019
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Humility

Luke 14:1 and 7-14

Jesus is in the home of a Pharisee. That’s a sermon in itself. We know Jesus didn’t get along well with the Pharisees, as a general rule. He had at least a couple of them as his disciples, apparently, like Nicodemus. But in general, not so much. And yet, Jesus goes to be the guest of this Pharisee. He could have said, “Those folks don’t care for me, so I want nothing to do with them.” But he gave everyone a chance. We should give people a chance, too.

But it does seem the motives of the Pharisees were less pure. They are watching Jesus closely. And if you read verses 2-6, you find they have invited a man who is ill, just for the purposes of seeing if Jesus will heal on the Sabbath, which was wrong in their eyes. In that culture, sharing table fellowship was a sign of trust and acceptance. To invite someone to your home with the motive of trapping them was not kosher. But it appears the Pharisees did a lot of things to Jesus that were not kosher simply because he challenged their ideas of true religion.

At the dinner, Jesus teaches. This was typical for a dinner of the day in Jewish culture. A rabbi would be invited to teach or possibly to engage in a scholarly diaglogue or debate with another rabbi for the edification of the guests.

In this case, Jesus teaches a principle that they should have been familiar with. Proverbs 25 says, “Don’t … push for a place among the great. Better to wait for an invitation to the head table than to be sent away in disgrace.” In Greek and Roman cultures, social status was very important, and the Jewish people, especially the upper classes that were more influenced by the surrounding culture, followed suit. This would include the Pharisees, most of whom came from the upper and middle classes.

According to the dictates of social status, the person with the highest place in society would sit at the host’s right hand. The next highest status person would sit at his left, and then two seats to the right, and so on. In this case, people were clamoring for the most prestigious seats.

Jesus says, “Better to take the lowest place so that you might be honored than to assume the highest place and be humiliated.” And that’s not just a practical principle, but also a spiritual one. Better to humble oneself before God than to exalt oneself. For God will honor the humble but not the proud.

Jesus also has a word for the host: “Rather than following convention and inviting your peers and your wealthy neighbors, you should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

Now when wealthy people threw banquets, they would invite some people who were of lower class. This was seen as a way to show off their magnanimity. But no one would invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, or the blind. Such people were seen as “cursed by God.”

Jesus says, “See those people as human beings and honor them. Share with them. They can’t repay you, but God will.” Again, it’s a principle they should have already known. Proverbs 19 says, “If you help the poor, you are lending to God, and God will repay you.”

Greatness in the Kingdom of God is not measured by status. Greatness in the Kingdom of God is measured by one’s humility, one’s willingness to think first of others. It’s measured by one’s generosity. It’s measured by how we treat other people, and especially how we treat those who are unable to do anything for us.

I think the question for each of us to ask ourselves is, “In what ways do we elevate ourselves above others?” Most of us would probably say, “Well, I don’t.” But often times, I think we’re unaware of some of the ways we do this.

Our default position is to assume that we are better or more important than other people. If we don’t make a conscious choice to humble ourselves and think first of others, then we will put ourselves first all the time, by default.

The week that I was starting to work on this sermon, I had to make a trip into Wal-Mart to pick up a couple of things. And I was in a hurry. And to be honest, I don’t like to shop, period, so I just wanted to get it over with. I was rushing through the aisles, and about the third or fourth or fifth time I barged ahead of someone in an aisle, I realized, “I’ve been doing that a lot today. Do I really think my time is so much more important than others? Do I really think I have the right to get through at the inconvenience of others? It’s easy to behave however I want in this big, anonymous store, but what if I were to run into someone I know? What would they think of how I’m behaving right now?” So I had to slow down. It would be easy to say, “Well, it was just a little thing.” But is it? Isn’t how we act in the little things a reflection of our real character?

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