Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, AD 2021

Luke 14.1-11

We know hypocrisy in others when we see it. We see it in the TV preacher who acts holy but seems most interesting in getting his viewers’ money. We see it in the politician who rails against the rich and goes to dinner galas where the plates cost more than an average car. We even see it close in home in false friends who betray us to look good in front of others. No one likes hypocrisy in other people. To say one thing and do another seems so unthinkable and cold.

What is the source of this hypocrisy? It is sin. The sin that dwells in all our hearts from birth. Though we must carefully distinguish between the sin of hypocrisy and the sin of weakness. Many people can say one thing but not live up to it, not because they do not really believe it, but because they are not yet perfectly holy. Christians still sin, even though Christ has made us new creatures, the Old Adam still clings to us. Christians, like all people in this world, still fail and still fall short of God’s law. That is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is knowingly expressing a belief while not actually believing in it. And that lack of belief shows in action.

Jesus notices this in our gospel lesson today. Jesus is invited to a Sabbath feast at a Pharisee’s house and notices how they all jockey for position to get the best places of honor. Why would these holy men do this? If they care about the righteousness of God and pleasing Him, why would their position in the banquet matter? This certainly would seem to be a hypocritical act, yet maybe it is just a weakness. Maybe the Pharisees don’t realize what they are doing. Were they hypocrites or just weak? Jesus knew of course, but did a miraculous work to show it.

Jesus had healed on the Sabbath several times before and it always made the Pharisees seethe with anger. They wanted to stick to God’s moral code according to the ten commandments, and the third commandment says the Sabbath is a day of rest. Therefore they prohibited anyone from doing any work on that day. They would say that their love of God’s law drove them to the commitment that no work of any type would be done on the Sabbath, and that meant that what Jesus was doing was wrong in their eyes.

Jesus exposes their hypocrisy when he brings out the man with dropsy. He does not care at all what they think. Jesus knew that healing on the Sabbath made them mad. He knew that they were watching him closely. Most people would then try to be careful, not stir the pot too much. Not Jesus. He is on the offensive here. He brings out the man and asks point blank, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Basically, “I am going to heal this afflicted man, tell me why that is wrong.” The Pharisees say nothing. Jesus heals the man and sends him away. Then when Jesus says, “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?” The Pharisees still say nothing.

If the Pharisees were just weak sinners, if they just struggled, they could have said something. They could have said that “yes, of course I would pull out my son or ox on the Sabbath. Yes of course it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.” They would not, because they did not want to lose their status. What was important to them was not God’s law, or they would have been compassionate or at least made an answer. What was important to them was looking righteous before others. They claimed to be holy before God, but truly only wanted to be seen by men. This is the essence of hypocrisy. It wasn’t just weakness.

Jesus continues by pointing out their competition for the favored position at the table. There were, at Jesus’ time, places of honor and places which were lower at a banquet. We see it today most often at weddings. The person who sat at the wedding table with the bride and groom and wedding party without being invited would be shamed for his presumption. Yet to sit at the farthest table, and then be approached by the couple and asked to come forward, would be a great honor.

Jesus brings this wisdom from Proverbs, and we know this intuitively in a way. Jesus uses the example of a wedding feast because we can see it there. The acquaintance who sits himself in the best man’s seat at the head table is not honoring the bride and groom. He is trying to honor himself. We know this is inappropriate there because the interloper denies the very reason for the wedding. He is making it about himself, when he should be there to honor the couple. He is in no place to gain honor, it must be given to him by someone else.

The primary lesson here is not about table manners at a wedding, or anywhere else. These actions of dishonor towards a host show hypocrisy. The reason the pharisees positioned themselves for the most honored place at the table was the same reason they could not answer Jesus when he healed the man with dropsy. Despite their appearance of holiness, their motivation was what other people thought of them. They would rather a man with dropsy NOT be healed than appear to be breaking the Sabbath in front of others. They would rather sit in a more honored place than they deserved and appear greater than possibly appear more humble than they were. Appearances were everything.

We may think we don’t have the same problem as the pharisee, that we live humbly, especially being non-aggressive Midwesterners, but passiveness is not the same as humility. The pharisees self-exaltation was founded in a lack of trust in God. They did not think that anyone would ask them to come to a higher seat. They needed to grab the spot for themselves. When we lack trust in God, we do the same thing. What can seem like humility is actually looking out for oneself first.

The world wants us to believe that preaching God’s word is the most arrogant, pharisaical thing you can do. The world wants us to believe that REAL Christians are quiet and just get along with everybody. Yet in today’s gospel lesson, who was quiet, and who spoke boldly? Who exalted themselves, and who served and spoke the Word of God in humility? To trust and speak God’s Word is not arrogance. It is the definition of humility. It is trusting someone other than ourselves. It is forgetting our desire to be liked and exalted to submit to the will of our king and father.

For us, this looks like speaking to co-workers and neighbors about Jesus even if it makes them think you are a religious weirdo. It looks like telling adult children who are living openly sinful lives that they need to repent, even if seeing your grandchildren may be at risk. It looks like putting the reputation of others, in business, in the family, in the church, above your own reputation, knowing you might get passed up for the raise, the honor, the recognition. It is most difficult because in our lives we don’t often experience the host coming to us to say, “Friend, move up higher.

Faith realizes that, but acts as if it will happen anyway. Faith trusts Christ first, not experience. For the life of the baptized Christian is one which is in Christ. Christ did not seek to exalt himself, but humbly followed his Father’s will. As we confessed, He became man, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, and was buried. All this was to follow his Father’s will for your sake. As Philippians 2 tells us, Jesus did not grasp for equality with God, but took the form of a servant. And no one on earth told him to come up higher. The pharisees did not honor him more after this. Yet God the Father honored Him. God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.

There, ruling heaven and earth, our exalted Lord sends His Holy Spirit to help us in our humility. In our baptism the Holy Spirit daily humbles our old man and exalts the new man within us. The old man still exists as long as we are here, and we will continue to struggle with weakness, but there is no reason to fall into hypocrisy. There is no reason as Christians to seek the approval of weak and fallen men. For whatever we give up in the approval of man will be given much more, if not now, then in the life to come.

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” perfectly describes Christ’s life, the one with no sin, weakness, or hypocrisy. Let us realize that sin – not in others, where it is easily found, but in ourselves – and confess it to God, seeking forgiveness. This forgiveness he brings to us in His word, and forgiveness to strengthen us in His body and blood. For the ultimate humility is to humble oneself before God, our true king, knowing that in our sin we deserve from him nothing but punishment. Yet in His compassion, we live in the forgiveness of Christ, he will always come down to us and say, “Friend, come up higher.” For every humble sinner, and every weak one, who trusts in Christ is a friend of God. Amen.  

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