[Texts: Proverbs 25:6-14 / Ephesians 4:1-6 / Luke 14:1-11]
People loved by God, when we prayed in the collect for grace to withstand the temptations of the evil one and to follow with pure heart and mind our Lord Jesus, we were simply asking for the gift of humility. Pride is what rules the devil’s heart - and there is nothing that shows how fallen we are as human beings like our pride - our arrogance, our willingness to look down on other people, to speak ill of them in order to make ourselves look better than we have a right to, but above all, our being so preoccupied with ourselves and our own life and its problems and challenges that we simply ignore others. Pride. It’s the cause of so much of the heart-ache in our lives, if only we had the eyes to see it.
And its opposite is humility. Which begins with actually noticing other people, their sorrows, their hurts, their joys. Humility isn’t just saying: “I am a worm.” No. Humility is deeper. It doesn't look inward, but outward. It puts others front and center. Humility is what we’ve been called to. Today’s Epistle: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” That’s the calling we’ve received as children of God! It’s the life our Lord lived.
Think of it from today’s Gospel. Jesus is invited into a fellow’s home - a ruler of the Pharisee. And they are watching him with hawk’s eyes, waiting for him to break the law so that they could accuse him. But this man who is humility incarnate, he’s not focused on himself. He comes into the feast and his eyes are drawn to a sick man who was also there. He knew their thoughts. He knew they were setting a trap for him. He tries to reach them: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” They won’t give an answer. The silence grows. Jesus shows them the answer. He took the man who was sick aside, healed him, and sent him away. Then he turned back to his accusers: “If you have son - or even an ox - that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, you gonna leave them there? You wouldn’t immediately pull them out?” Silence again. The silence of pride. They were focused on themselves and had no time to spare for a man in pain; he's only a trap for Jesus to them, nothing more. Pride is at its root the obsessive looking inward. It makes us bent.
And in pride they begin vying for seats of honor at the banquet. Jesus watches it all with sadness. He tells them: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more honorable than you show up, and your host have to scoot you out of the way to make room for the more honored guest. Take the lowest spot. Then your host may say to you: ‘Friend, come up higher.’ Then you get glory, not shame in the presence of those at table with you.”
I know it sounds like Jesus is giving lessons on manipulation, but that’s to misunderstand Him. The person who is humble looks out at others, wonders at the great gifts of God that they are, and so honors THEM by taking a lesser seat. He WANTS the others to have the honor; a humble person delights in them getting glory. And if glory comes his way, it comes from the Giver of the feast and not something he gives to himself. As such a gift, it may be rejoiced in.
Jesus summarizes it exactly in that pithy word: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The man or woman or child who looks out for other and wants for them the best and seeks that they may have glory - recognition, honor, fame - that’s a person on the pathway of Jesus. For that is exactly what He did!
He came among us and He took the low spot - not just to set us an example. Oh, it IS an example, but much more. He did it because He wanted us to have glory. He looked at you and thought: this one is precious and it would be the joy of my heart to see the holy angels serving him, to see her sitting at the table in my Father’s kingdom as a beloved daughter, to see him filled with the joy of my Father’s love. You see, He was humble because He didn’t look at Himself - He looked at YOU. He did everything that He did so that YOU could be exalted and blessed and lifted up. Is that amazing or what? To give you the seat of honor at His Father’s table, He chose the seat of shame upon the cross. To supply to you life-giving bread, He gave up His flesh to death. To cleanse you with living water, He bled. To pour out on you His Holy Spirit, He gave up His spirit on Calvary’s tree. In everything, then, He humbled Himself so that you might be lifted high. That’s the miracle our readings celebrate today: you have a God who is humble! Always looking out for you and not for Himself. A God looking out for Himself would never have done the cross.
But do you see, then, He lifts you up - all the way up to His humility! He invites you into the joy of His way of life where the focus isn’t on YOU, but on His Father and the people He has seen fit to surround you with. He lifts you up so that you can be humble with Him, focused on others. Noticing when someone’s hurting, grieving, heart-broken. He frees you from the obsession with yourself and your own little world and He would make your heart a chalice to hold a few drops of this world’s blood and tears. His Supper frees you for that: He bodies and bloods you one to another, members of one body, sharing one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, with one God and Father of all, over all and through all and in all. You don’t look at each other the same way again after sharing together in this Feast. You walk away from it, delighting in the honor He has bestowed on your sisters and brothers and how He has given them a seat of glory in His presence - and He invited you along too. Miracle of miracles! But it doesn’t stop here. Out you go into the world, freed to take the low place, that is, freed to focus on others. To notice them in their hurts and to offer to them the joy of a place with you where a nail-scared hand wipes away the tears forever.
My friends, it is true: if you exalt yourself, God in the last judgment if not before will humble you. But if you, by the power and grace of God’s Holy Spirit, humble yourselves - lifting your eyes from yourself, not fearing that if you don’t watch out for you, no one else will; instead trusting that God will take care of you so you are freed to care for others - then you will see that God will not fail you. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Exalted with Jesus, who after the humble cross was raised and exalted above all names and seated at His Father’s side in glory - where He waits for you and has a place prepared for you. To Him, our humble Lord, who took the low spot, that you might be seated with Him in honor, to Him be all glory, dominion, and worship, now and to the ages of ages. Amen.