St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Sept. 27, 2015
“O Lord, let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. ”
Luke 14:1 “And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.”
Our Gospel for the day gives us a familiar picture, Christ amongst the Pharisees. We see Christ entering a house to partake in the Sabbath feast at the house of one of the “chief” Pharisees. We know from Rabbinical sources that the Sabbath day was intended for feasting, for celebration, and for rest. One commentator tells us, quoting a Rabbinical precept: "Meet the Sabbath with a lively hunger; let thy table be covered with fish, flesh, and generous wine.” The food, in accordance with Sabbath principle of no work being done on that day, was prepared the day before. Thus, the day was set aside for feasting, rest and for recreation.
Instead of using the day for its intended purpose of godly fellowship and relaxation, the Pharisees around Jesus “watched” Him. This was typical any time Jesus was with them. Some godly Pharisees, like Nicodemus, were curious and wanted to hear more from Jesus. Most however, had an ulterior motive: they wanted to “entangle Him in His talk.” We know from the Gospels that Christ drew large crowds wherever He went, and thus, many of the Jewish leaders were consumed with jealousy and envy. They were concerned for their exalted position in society; thus, the close attention they paid to Christ, but not for a beneficent reason.
This scene was created perfectly for a confrontation: “And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy.” We don’t know if the man was a “plant”, or whether he took advantage of the open nature of the Middle Eastern house to draw near in hopes of a healing. All we know that this man was there for the glorification of God and of Christ’s sovereignty over the ills of man.
Christ asks the penetrating question: “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?” This is addressed to the Pharisees and the “lawyers”, better known as “scribes”; the ones entrusted with copying the Law with “zero tolerance” for errors. The Pharisees and Scribews were, indeed, the guardians of the Law of Moses, along with the manifold additions of the priestly class over the generations since Moses. By this time, there were several hundred aspects of the Law that governed Jewish life. These were not God-given, but rather the additions of man. Recall what Jesus told us during another confrontation with the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23: “Woe unto you you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
Thus, when Christ asked the question, He already knew the answer. The Mosaic Law permitted one to rescue a beast fallen into the ditch or a hole, to rescue a child fallen into the sea, and to administer some types of first aid. The obvious answer is a resounding “yes.” Yet, due to the hardness of their hearts, they kept silence: “… they held their peace.” Why? Another commentator says: “If the lawyers and Pharisees declared it lawful, they defeated their plot, and if they said otherwise, they involved themselves in an argument with Jesus in which, as experience taught them, they would be humiliated before the people. Hence, they kept silence, but their silence only justified him, since it was the duty of every lawyer to pronounce this act unlawful if it had been so.”
Jesus, according to Luke, “…took him, and healed him, and let him go;” Christ then followed this up with the Rabbinical principle that they all knew, but would not admit: “Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?”
Consider the absolute hardness of these men’s hearts. They had just witnessed, first-hand, a miraculous healing; yet all they can worry about is breaking the law of the Sabbath! It is simply amazing. God’s Power is so very clearly and convincingly shown to them, laid at their feet, but they can’t see it. They can’t see it for a very special reason, which Christ makes clear in the parable He relates next.
Christ says: “8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; 9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. 10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”
Certain seats at a feast were considered the most honorable, yet Jesus’ instruction insists upon humility. Christ gives a spiritual meaning to the social instruction. A noted commentator has said, “The reward of pride is dishonour, and the reward of true modesty is glory.” Thus, seeking the lowest place for oneself has its own reward.
This lesson of humility is very clear. To sum it up, Jesus says (Luke 14:11) ”For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
There we have it. Christ exposes the one special reason why they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see what was happening. That reason, simply, was pride. Pride in their position in society, pride in their erudition in the Law, pride in the deference they were paid by men, and most of all, their over-weaning spiritual pride.
Pride is often the chief barrier to the acceptance of Christ and his saving message. God’s Grace will not enter a prideful heart, but, according to Psalm 51:17: “a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
And so it is with us. Not that anyone here could be accused of having the pride of a Pharisee. God forbid. Yet, for all of us, including your rector, pride is a constant enemy to spiritual growth. In my own life, it’s probably impossible to say how many times pride has gotten me into trouble, or, at the very least, into some degree of humiliation when I thought too much of myself, or attempted something that was beyond me.
Yet, we have a defense against our old spiritual enemy, pride. That defense, so easily used and yet so little availed, is a sense of our true standing before God: that of miserable sinners in need of redemption. When we constantly confess our sins and humbly seek absolution and restoration, God’s Grace flows to us like a river of blessing. While God resists the proud, He readily accepts those who acknowledge their need of Him.
Then, we receive the bountiful blessings of His Grace in our lives.
Luke 14:11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.