Our Guest and Host
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11 ESV) Jesus gives more than helpful tips on good social etiquette and table manners in the house of a certain Pharisee. He reveals in His cross the power of God’s grace and mercy to transform the “lowest” seat to be the place of honor and glory. Today at International Lutheran Church, we observe our Savior as He dines with us in our house.
After 25 years in Asia, I am beginning to get the picture: food and eating together is central and essential for real fellowship to happen. Nothing is really decided, and no one is really introduced or welcomed until there is an official meal to celebrate and bring us to one table. This is why I am so excited that this weekend at ILC we are able to hold our annual Welcome Back Barbeque that we haven’t had for several years! Finally, we can once again fellowship, share stories, and welcome new friends with food.
Eating and the dinner table conversation was a major part of our Savior’s ministry right up until the night He was betrayed. Jesus at table, both as guest and host, is how we see Him in today’s gospel lesson from Luke 14. He is guest as He is invited to the home of a certain ruler of the Pharisees. He is host as He teaches and instructs those present of God’s mercy and power to save.
While they were observing Jesus, He was watching them. The first thing to be observed is the day - the Sabbath, the Holy day dedicated to celebrating the day of rest that God built into His creation.
“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:9-11 ESV)
Yet when Jesus comes to the house, He observes the real rest and holiness that only the Lord of Sabbath can bring – the healing forgiveness of God’s grace and mercy. We are shown firsthand just what this guest has come to do in our lives and the lives of all: to restore life. While they were all watching Him, He saw the man whose health condition of dropsy or edema is disfiguring and painful. Jesus does not shy away but takes hold of this man and this opportunity to free him and us of our sin and silent ways of judging others. Jesus shows us what God’s table can do!
The second thing to be observed is something of our awkward sense of propriety. While I know that Asian tables are purposely round to mask the sense of superiority, they do not disguise entirely the reality of shame and honor that can happen at the table. It took me a while to learn that grabbing any seat was not proper, but instead that the right thing to do was to wait to be shown which seat is for me. That the host would face the door and always be able to see who came in was something that later became more obvious. But Jesus’ observation reveals to us something that we would not even do ourselves, namely take the lowest seat. Yet, this is exactly what our Host has done. In putting on human flesh, in touching the sick and infirm and finally taking upon Himself the shame of all through the cross, He turns the table and makes Himself nothing so that you and I would be raised up. On the cross, He is lifted in shame so that we would be honored at the Table of our God. This transforms our need to put ourselves first and frees us to serve one another in love.
Lastly, Jesus has a word to us as He did that day to His host: think about who you invite. It is not hard to see through our thin generosity that often it is easier to treat others who will treat you back. But here again is a parable, a lesson of truth. Jesus came not for the healthy but the sick. He came not for the clean but those stained by sin. He did not die to raise the living but to raise the dead. Our lives reflect His invitation to that heavenly wedding banquet as we live not for ourselves but for our neighbor. They might be our classmate, our co-worker, our family member or someone we just happen to meet that day on the train or bus. How we observe and care for them invites them to learn more about the Guest and Host who transforms our lives. As we observe our Savior, we are transformed by His true humility, forgiven of our sin of superiority and equipped to show hospitality to all.