In those days, in the refined Greek speaking world civilized folk laid down on couches to eat. When invited to dine at someone’s house the couches were lined up down table. In a pecking order. The most important were at the top of the table, with the next most important at their feet, etc. This was a world fixated upon importance and knowing your place. And it was only the men who reclined. The ladies, the children, and the servants all ate standing behind the men. There was a very clear pecking order here. In that context it seems like Our Lord is giving really good advice about how to be honoured and climb the social ladder. But is that really what Our Lord is ever about? Does He care how important you are in the business world, here in your own congregation, in the ladies’ guild, or the Board of Elders? No. He cares about whether you trust in Him as your saviour.
There is a lot of up and down talk in Our Lord’s words today. “He who lifts himself up will be lowered down.” “He who lowers himself down will be lifted up.” It flows out of His questions earlier. “Is it lawful to heal or help on the Sabbath, the day of rest?” Since the people at that Sabbath supper wouldn’t answer that question He answers His question with another question. “Your kid or cow falls into well on the Sabbath. Wouldn’t you lift him up?” God’s command to rest does not excuse from loving those in need. That is not “work”. It is right. It is love toward the neighbour. It is what you should do, even on the Sabbath. After all what was the purpose of resting on the Sabbath? Remembering why God rested. Remembering His Word and promises. That He made all things good. And though sin has made work a burden rather than a joy, God is your rest. He is your salvation.
Resting once a week is simply common sense. But one keeps the Sabbath day holy not by not working, but by letting God do His work of putting your soul at rest. For when He rested from creating He didn’t stop working. He merely stopped His work of creating new things out of nothing. As soon as God stopped creating, mankind started sinning. God needed to act. To work. The Father sent His Son to work out our salvation. The purpose of resting on the Sabbath is give to souls the chance to hear about His Son whom God had promised would come to save them!
And now, on that Sabbath day, that Son was here! And suddenly a man with dropsy was in front of Him. Standing. Not reclining. Lowest of the low. Dropsy is a disease that causes your flesh to bloat painfully with water especially around the joints and eyes, disfiguring you. Our Lord grabs the man, heals him, and forgives him. Our translation said, that He “sent Him away,” but the word “dismiss” or “send away” is the primary word used in the Gospels for what Jesus does to your sins. He dismisses them. He sends them away from you. He forgives them, taking them away from you by taking them on Himself.
Then He turns to those church folks watching. “If your kid fell down into a well on the Sabbath wouldn’t you pull him up, save him from drowning?” Of course. And that’s what Our Lord did for the man who was drowning in His own flesh. He was low because of his disease. The Lord took his lowliness on Himself, pulling that man up out of his pit. He freed him.
These men didn’t have power to heal that man. But that wasn’t why they neglected him. They were more concerned about losing their seats of honour at the table. “If I get up to help him someone else will get my spot!” they thought.
That’s how we think too! Life is a constant race. A competition. Dog eat dog. Take what you can for yourself, because no one else will give you anything. Thus, we are fixated on ourselves, on our position, on our status, on how much honour we are or aren’t getting, or how can we get more? This is why we constantly misunderstand Our Lord’s parables and words. We are so fixated on the here below that we forget what’s going on up above.
But Our Lord is the only man who walked with His feet firmly on the ground while His head was truly in the clouds. He is God and man. He is focused on two places at once. Here on earth and there in heaven. He interacts with us here on earth and what we’re going through. But He always points us to there in heaven. SO he tells them and us a parable.
When you are invited to a wedding feast don’t recline in the seats of honour. Instead, take the lowest place. In fact, the lowest place is not to sit down at all, but to stand behind those at table isn’t it?
But what wedding feast does He have in mind? His wedding feast where He will marry His bride, the Church, whom He prepares for Himself, making her spotless and radiant dressed in the robes of righteousness He provides her. It is the feast where celebrate two become one. Christ unites Himself to us, His Church. Where Christ feeds us the food of heaven: His body and blood broken and shed on His cross. He laid Himself down on that banquet table at the lowest place. At the foot rest, where nails were pounded through His feet and hands into boards. Then He who was lowest was lifted up so that the whole world saw Him.
He was lifted up on that cross. He continues to be lifted up for the world to see Him whenever Christ is proclaimed as crucified for sinners. This lowest of the low was lifted up, taking sin, sickness, and death into Himself, becoming THE man of sorrows. He is acquainted with grief, sorrow and every illness and disease that afflicts us, suffering and paying for it all while hanging on that cross.
At His heavenly wedding feast He grabs you and lifts up you who have been laid low by sin saying to you, “Beloved, you must come up higher.” When we fixate on our earthly lives we miss this point and think He’s only talking about how to win friends and influence people! Drop the pretense. Drop the fretting about whether people at church or in your social circle recognize your work. More importantly, stop wondering whether God sees your efforts, your good living, the things you gone without for Him. Forget it. It doesn`t amount to a hill of beans and you can`t buy God with it. Repent.
For you have been invited to His Son’s supper! That’s what’s important. Today you will get a foretaste of the marriage feast to come. On the Last Day, that feast day, you will fully know His eternal love which so completely prepared so many wonderful things for you that all His work of creating was finished and He rested on that first Sabbath. But more than that, His love sent His caused Him to rescue you from sin for a new and better world to come won for you on that second great Sabbath day when the Son rested from all His work of saving you. And His Spirit is still working today drawing you here to come take the place that He has prepared for you at His table. Do not absent yourself from His salvation out of ignorance or foolishness or apathy.
Come for you are His beloved and He is yours.
In +Jesus`name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON