[Luke 14:7-11] Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Sitting in the Right Chair
Our Lord Jesus is at a dinner party in today’s Gospel. He was dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees [Luke 14:1]. At this party, there was a man who had dropsy – a swelling disease caused by water pockets collecting in your body tissue.
This dinner was on the Sabbath. Jesus questions the lawyers and Pharisees with that question which was so often on their tongue, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” They are silent. “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on the Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” They could not reply.
The Pharisees and lawyers were put to shame by Jesus. But that wretched man with that grotesque disease, that man swollen with dropsy, he is taken up by Jesus in the presence of all, is healed, is made whole.
Then comes today’s parable. Jesus tells today’s parable to that same dinner crowd because He notices that some of them – certainly Pharisees and experts in the Law – are choosing for themselves the places of honor at the table.
The parable is simple. When you’re invited to a wedding reception – a “wedding feast” – and there’s no seating chart, don’t sit too close to the head table. You might be asked, embarrassingly, to move back a little further.
However, if you assume a little less about your status with the bride and groom and sit accordingly, they may see you and say, “Move on up closer. You’re a friend. Sit close.” At a board meeting, or a meeting at work, don’t sit down too close to the chairman’s or the boss’s seat.
As Scripture puts it elsewhere, “If anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” [Galatians 6:3]. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” [1 Corinthians 10:12]. “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” [1 Corinthians 8:12]. And as our Lord said today, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Let’s not think more of ourselves than we ought to think when taking our seat in the presence of the master of our table, Jesus. Humility means sitting in the seat that is true. Your sinful nature wants to sit in the seat that is His. We are called to sit in the right seat, the seat that is true of us.
Your sinful nature wants to sit in the seat of Judge, determining for God who He should and shouldn’t have mercy on, who should and who should not receive earthly aid from God – angry that the “wrong kind of people”, or undeserving, are helped.
You seat yourself in the seat of Judge, complaining about your brother’s faults while overlooking so many of your own. Yet, the seat that is true for you and true for me is only the seat of confession: “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities…” Complaining is the confession of another’s sins. Wrong seat.
The fallen sinful nature in you walks into the halls of God’s kingdom and says, “I ought to sit in the seat of Teacher, Instructor;” “I will read God’s Word and give instruction to it.”
Upon reading or hearing the Word of God, the Scriptures, and finding in it something you don’t like, something you don’t want to have to believe, you unseat the Bible from its throne. Your opinion takes its place.
When standing before the Word of God, the right seat for each of us, the seat that is true, is that of learner, student, disciple. God’s Word is to inform us of what is right, wrong, true, untrue. Our reason and opinion belong in their proper place. God is right. I am wrong.
Yet, when we’re in that right seat of learner, then how highly He does exalt us, that He allows His Word to sit in our ears and even gives us understanding. To have His Word and to come to belief and acceptance of it – that’s how He calls us up higher when we all sit in the seat of learner and listener and not judge of His Word.
And, brothers and sisters, it is the fallen sinful nature that walks into the halls of God’s kingdom and takes the seat of holy-man or holy-woman. Spiritual. It is the sin-fallen nature that believes itself to be capable, to be righteously strong. It’s only the hubris of my sin-nature that believes itself humble and therefore holy.
My sin-fallen nature refuses to believe the seating chart, that I am a plain, regular sinner – just like the rest. “In some way or another, I must belong further up.” That’s sin talking. That’s unbelief.
True humility is the work of the Holy Spirit by which we see the truth of our nature, that we are beggars. God’s Law shows my sin [Romans 3:20]. It humbles me. It condemns me. It strips me of my belief that I have good works. Only this God-wrought humility can then believe “By Grace I’m Saved, Grace Free and Boundless.”
Brothers and sisters, if you always have a complaint against another, you’ve set yourself in a seat too high. When you find yourself having complaints against God’s Word, you’ve set yourself above God’s throne. And, when you only see this fault in others, you’re doing the same. Sit in the learner’s chair. God’s Word is Teacher. And sit knowing that it is God who rightly has a complaint against you.
What can God do with such miserable lawyers and Pharisees as us, those so swollen by the dropsy of immorality and sin with hypocrisy? He gave His Son to die for us. He forgives. And He even begins now healing us of our grotesque disease.
Jesus, who belongs at the Head Table, sat in the back chairs with us on the cross. He came into the congregation and sat in the worst Sinner’s Chair. On the cross, Jesus became the Poor, Miserable Sinner and was crucified for sinners and hypocrites.
Jesus took that seat because He loves you, Pharisee or grotesque sinner though you be. Your hypocrisy and Pharisee-heart became His, your immorality became His. Now His good heart, His purity, His righteousness, His obedience is becoming yours.
Fully yours in eternity – being made yours in time. His work through His Word and His Sacraments. He has made and is now making us sinners fit for the seat He has already given us.
Therefore, sit in the right seat, the honest seat. Be honest about you, the sinner; trust alone in Jesus, the Savior. Amen.