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Friday, August 30, 2013

Pentecost 15: Be Humble or Be Humbled


In the reading before us today, Jesus goes to the home of a leading Pharisee on the Sabbath to eat a meal.
That sentence is fraught with tension – kind of like when we heard a few years ago that Nelson Mandela was going to have tea with Betsie Verwoerd. Jesus, by this stage in His ministry has had a number of run-ins with the Pharisees (they’re beginning to hate Him and all that He stands for) and particularly around the issue of the Sabbath.
In our reading, Jesus addresses the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law, then in verse 7 He addresses all of them, and in verse 12 He addresses His host.  But everyone was listening of course, and we need to as well because there’s a bit of Pharisee in each of us,...... we’re also often part of the crowd ........and sometimes we are the host or hostess.

May Jesus speak to us today.

“One Sabbath, Jesus went to eat a meal at the home of one of the leading Pharisees; and people were watching Jesus closely.”

Did you notice that........ and people were watching Jesus closely.  Do you ever feel that way…watched closely,.......or that you’ve been or are being... set up?  Find comfort in the truth that Jesus knew that feeling well.

“A man whose legs and arms were swollen came to Jesus…”  

Now isn’t that a surprise?  Jesus has been invited to the home of a leading Pharisee, on the Sabbath, and surprise, surprise, a sick man appears.  What’s he doing there?  He’s been planted there;...... that’s why everyone’s watching closely, because they know what’s coming.  Sick people are sometimes used, like Rent-A-Crowd. ....... Find me someone with HIV or Aids to hug – make sure you get a photo.  
If you’ve ever been used, paraded, put on show, know that Jesus has a special place in His heart for you. 

And it’s all a setup and Jesus, as always, sees right through it:

Jesus asked the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, ‘Does our Law allow healing on the Sabbath or not?’  But they would not say anything.

You’re not allowed to work on the Sabbath, and healing is work, but likewise, to leave a person uncured who could be cured is unethical and wrong.  And because He knows how Pharisees think…ie: they would say “Heal him the next day”…Jesus says if your son or even your ox fell into a well on the Sabbath, you would work and get him out, you wouldn’t say, "wait till tomorrow, I can’t work on the Sabbath."

And Jesus healed the man and…sent him away.  He wasn’t a guest, you see...... it was ALL a set up.
And there’s a stunned silence during which Jesus looks around:

“Jesus noticed how some of the guests were choosing the best places, so he told this parable to all of them: ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place.  It could happen that someone more important than you has been invited and your host, who invited both of you would have to come and say to you, “Let him have this place.”  Then you would be embarrassed and have to sit in the lowest place.  Instead, when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place so that your host will come to you and say, “Come on up, my friend, to a better place.”  This will bring you honour in the presence of all the other guests.  For everyone who makes himself great will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be made great.’”

These words are addressed to you and to me in all of the different capacities we have........ and Jesus’ message is:
 BE HUMBLE or else you will BE HUMBLED.  

Humility is the key to unlocking the blessings of God’s Kingdom.  I came across this true story.  A government official who entered American President Lincoln’s Office (of course you can never be sure what you might come across in the Oval Office) was startled to see the President polishing his shoes.  “Sir” he gasped, “surely you do not polish your own shoes.”  “Of course” replied the President, “whose do you polish?”  

The greatness of the person is evidenced by their humility.  

There’s a saying, “The higher the bamboo grows, the lower it bends.”  Humility is what bends us, whatever high position we might hold,.... it is the key that unlocks the blessings of God’s Kingdom in our life.

The highest title God ever allows in His Church is……servant,...... and so Jesus turns to His host and to each of us, and gives a command which, as we consider it and meditate on it, helps us to see whether we are humble or not; whether we really understand Kingdom service or not.

“The Jesus said to His host, ‘When you give a lunch or dinner, do not invite your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbours – for they will invite you back, and in this way you will be paid for what you did.  When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind; and you will be blessed.’” 


The Pharisees would not be seen with these types of people…would you?...there’s a good chance they would not know any of these people who in those days were social outcasts....do you?  We so often turn people who are different to us into outcasts, don’t we?  You don’t "mix with them"…we might say to ourselves or our children.  And the Pharisee in each of us would say the same and would add, “If I do invite these types, they’ll case my house while they eat, and come back next week to break in and steal from me.”

And so those who refuse to embrace the humility which Jesus modeled and expected from His disciples, will never do this, choosing rather to disobey/ignore this command of Jesus rather than submit to His teaching.

Notice what happens if we do humbly obey this command (remember the whole context of this teaching of Jesus is humility): 

When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind; and you will be blessed.  

This is therefore another way to receive God’s blessing – it is a beatitude.  Serve others in this way and you will be blessed…Humble service.  

Humility is the key that unlocks the blessings of God’s Kingdom.  Let us reach for that key.
Reach for it by bending down.  
Bend down so low and serve so much that the Pharisee in us dies.  
Be humble or be humbled – I don’t know exactly what this means for you and for me this week or today, but can I encourage us to explore what it might mean?  

I close with Jesus' words:

For everyone who makes himself great will be humbled and everyone who humbles himself will be made great.

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