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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Grace To The Humble

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 14:1,7-14

Jesus was at a dinner party, and “He noticed how the guests picked the places of honor.” We still do that. Children scramble into the car to grab the front seat or to sit by a window. When you go to a movie or an event at school, teenagers cling like leeches to seats along the aisle. Adults covet seats for comfort or prestige. The desire to make the neighbors green with envy hasn’t died out, either.

No, human nature hasn’t changed. Which one of us is striving toward a social or professional seat farther down? Name someone who’s working his way to the bottom rung! The novelist John Steinbeck wrote, “In America there isn’t a single individual who isn’t descended from an aristocrat – not even an Indian who isn’t a tribal chief. We brag about our heritage, even if our ancestors were a bunch of highwaymen!

Jesus noticed how the guests picked the places of honor – and He said, “Don’t do it!” “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” Jesus pointed to pride as man’s worst problem – the mother of vice that first fouled paradise. Pride is the venom that the serpent hissed at Adam and Eve: “You will be like God.” It was pride that made Satan the Devil in the first place.

People talk about sin today as if it only had to do with lying, swearing, stealing, sex, and so on. The truth is: sin is rebellion against God. It all began with Satan’s pride, when he said, “I will ascend to Heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the Mount of Assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain… I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:13,14) Satan had “I” trouble, didn’t he?!

It's pride that fills hell. It’s pride that makes people want more and more – that gives them the idea they deserve more – that says their way is the only way. It’s pride that sours friendships, strangles love, devours faith, and blinds people to their need of God! And that rebellion against God is sin! As the Proverb puts it: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18)

And so, Jesus says to us: “When you receive an invitation, go and sit down in the lowest place.” There’s nothing cowardly about this humility of His. What makes us think that bluffing, bullying, beating our way through life to get even or get ahead, is so brave?

No chicken-heart has the courage to go behind his mask and face the list of his failures. No weakling can stand to know the whole truth about himself. Humility calls for that special bravery to take it and step down from the throne in favor of God, pick up a cross, and go to the front to fight for Him. No sissies for the army of Him who dared men to lose their lives to find them.

Where does this humility come from? It comes from knowing God. And we come to know God through His word, the Bible. That’s where we learn to know Him as Creator of the universe and Savior of mankind. That’s where we learn of His judgement on sin – and His great mercy, and amazing grace. It’s through God’s word that we come to realize how head over heels in debt we are to Him.

The proud person sings praises to himself. He’s so stuck on himself that he believes he owes everything to the simply marvelous person he is. “I’m a self-made man,” he says. “How could they get along without me?” she asks. The humble person traces the source of his success back to the teachers who taught him what he knows; to the men who fought and died for his liberty to learn; to his mother who suffered to give him life; and ultimately to God from whom all his gifts came. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” (James 1:17a)

Humility happens when we at last have gotten it through our heads and hearts, that we don’t have rights so much as privileges – that the work of our minds and hands is the result of the many minds and hands who shaped us, and ultimately the gift of the extravagant Maker who, as Paul tells us, “Made the world and everything in it… and gives all men life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24,25) When that truth dawns on us, it will shatter pride and start us searching for a place lower down.

Humility also springs from a sense of sin. No one who thinks that everything they do is right can be humble. It takes knowledge of guilt as well as debt to bring a person to their knees.

Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, or tax collector? The Pharisee’s pride in his goodness blocked out God. He was so busy congratulating himself that he wasn’t like other men, it never occurred to him that he wasn’t much like God, either.

In contrast to the Pharisee, the Publican was off in a corner, staring at his feet. He wasn’t comparing himself to the gutter, but to the sky. He beat his breast, saying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” not seeking credit, but absolution. Our guilt, as our debt, breaks our pride and sends us to prayer to speak to God, and to the Bible to listen to God. And Jesus said the tax collector, rather than the Pharisee “went home justified before God.” And then He added, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Humility – a quality that comes from knowing God as Creator and Savior, learned from His word, the Bible. Humility – a state in which we recognize God as the giver of “life and breath and everything else,” as we learn from His word, the Bible. Humility – coming from a sense of sin – not as the world, or politicians, or lawyers, or news commentators define it – but rebellion against God as He defines it in His word, the Bible.

Humility – an unnatural quality that Jesus said we must have if we are to be “justified before God.” And humility’s finest hour is yet to come! For in some supernatural sense, “the meek… shall inherit the earth.”

So be faithful in your use of God’s word, and “when you’re invited, take the lowest place,” so that on that day when your Great Host comes at last, “He will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place!’”


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