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Trinity 17

by Christopher Esget ~ October 3rd, 2009

Gospel: Luke 14:1-11

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” +inj+

To exalt yourself is to measure everything by what pleases you.  To exalt yourself is to be proud.

Pride seeks everything — including heaven, and God Himself — on one’s own terms.

Humility seeks everything — especially heaven, and God Himself — on His own terms.

Pride glorifies the self:  the rugged individual, the achiever, the self-made man, the independent woman.

Humility glorifies God, and abandons every personal claim to righteousness.

The world rejoices in the self-made man.

The angels rejoice in a self-despairing man:  “one sinner who repents.”

“Now it happened, as [Jesus] went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely.” Pride watches others closely.  They watched Jesus carefully, hoping to find some fault in Him. Hoping to find fault in the One in Whom there was no sin! Nor was guile found in His mouth.  Pride watches others closely, with scrutiny, hoping to find something blameworthy.  Do you do the same?

How easy it is to find fault in others!  And when we do not see a sin plain enough to accuse the brother publicly, then we condemn his motives, assuming the worst.  When Jesus tells us to take the lowest place at the dinner, this also means that if you see your brother or sister in Christ commit a sin, think not only of the sin; consider also what he or she has done well.  In doing this, says St. Basil the Great, “you will oftentimes find that he is better than you are; when you consider all he has done, and not [merely] a part.”

Why do you think on what is evil?  Why do you seek to find fault?  The Word of God admonishes us:  “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” [Phil. 4.8].

Instead of watching others closely, we should watch ourselves closely.  Instead of scrutinizing others, to find fault with them, condemn them, the life we should be watching is our own.  “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup” [1 Cor. 11.28].  How is it that you dare recline at Sabbath here for an ever-so-brief time, only to depart clucking your tongue at others and continue your habit of grumbling and self-absorbtion?

Humble yourself and confess your sin.  But what about when the devil comes to accuse your conscience?  Or when another person attacks you and maligns you?  When we have heeded the words of Jesus — which we can never fully do — then if we have taken the lowest place, we will have nowhere further to fall.  So when you are convicted by the law, or when another attacks you, respond like this:  “Do you insult me?  Well do I deserve it, for I am unworthy of the least of God’s kindnesses.  Do you treat me as a beggar or a bum?  Quite right. I am poor, and stand utterly in need, and must seek God’s help each day.  Do you look on me as insignificant and of no importance?  This I already know — for I was made from dirt.”  Do not then be hurt by the world’s pride, or angered, or filled with bitterness and resentment.  Rather, rejoice – for so did they treat our Lord.

The whole world is overcome with pride and is constantly tempting us to be prideful. Some of you, the devil tempts with prosperity, in order to make you arrogant and conceited.  Thus you imagine you are self-reliant, and exult in having a high seat at society’s banquet.  Others of you, the devil sends difficulties, to drive you to a different kind of pride — the pride of rebellion and lack of contentment.  In either case, we look for and take joy in the pomps of this world.

Perhaps the most dangerous is the subtle, sinister pride of the outwardly-pious Christian.  It is not in your doing, your works, not even in your believing, that you have anything to be proud of.  The prideful person looks at himself and sees good works, what he has tried to do, how he has tried to “help” and “be nice” and “give something back.”  But the humble person sees only his evil works; humility finds righteousness in Christ’s work alone.

Do you take pride in your good actions, while giving yourself full pardon for your wicked ones?  “If you think you have done something good, then give thanks to God,” rather than comparing yourself to your neighbor. [St. Basil the Great]

Do not affliction and suffering also make manifest your pride?  For when we face trouble or pain, the heart says, “I do not deserve this!  What have I done to God, that He should allow this to happen?”  Do you see here, how we blame God, and admit no wrongdoing on our own part?  How quickly we turn again to our own efforts!  “What have I done, that I must suffer so?”  And the Lord says, “Well do you ask, ‘What have you done,’ because for Me you have done nothing.  Everything has been done for your own benefit and delight.  You have followed your own will, and ignored Me.”  And so pride hates suffering, but the humble receive it with fear, seeing even affliction as the work of God for our good.

If the Lord therefore seats you in the lowest place, it is for your own good.  He is correcting and disciplining you, that He may lift you up in due time.  Struggle not against it, but rather hasten to it.  If He has brought you down to one knee, bend the other; if He has put you on both knees, prostrate yourself completely.  Cast away every pride and pretension.  You are not a good person.  Despair of yourself, and cling to Christ.

And here is the Gospel: Jesus took the lowest place.  He humbled Himself for you, giving up the glory He had with His Father to become man, be born of a virgin, become mortal for you, suffer spitting and mockery for you, suffer derision and a thorny crown for you, suffer nails through the wrist and a spear through His belly for you, all for your foolish pride.  All this He has done for you, giving up His high place and taking the lowest place, where you belong.  And now He invites you to His table.  How will you approach?

Pride seeks to understand this Supper, to “interpret” it, to rationalize it, to approach it on man’s terms.  Pride makes demands of Jesus and His ministers, and argues with the clear and simple words, “This is My body.” Humility says, “Dear Jesus, this is Your Supper.  I believe Your Words, even though I do not understand them.  I am not worthy even of the lowest place at Your table.  Yet You invite me by grace, just as You invited Zaccheus, and Matthew, and Mary Magdalene.  Here, You call me Your friend, even I, who have done nothing but ignore You and live pridefully.  You say to me, ‘Friend, go up higher,’ and You give me in Your Sacrament a higher seat than I could ever have imagined, for You give me Your Body, Your Blood, Your very self; I do not deserve it, and my reason cannot comprehend it.  I have nothing to offer, nothing to give, nothing to say, except ‘Thank You’ and ‘Amen.’” +INJ+

Christopher S. Esget + Pastor, Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia, USA


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