Jeremiah 2:4-13 – God states the case against the descendants of Jacob.
Sirach 10:12-18 – The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord.
Proverbs 25:6-7 – Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
Psalm 81:1, 10-16 – I brought you out of the land of Egypt, but you did not obey me. So I gave you over to your stubborn desires.
Psalm 112 – Blessed is the one who obeys the Lord. His house contains riches.
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 – Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Luke 14:1, 7-14 – Jesus heals on the Sabbath and lectures on the law. Jesus teaches about taking the lower place. When you give a luncheon or dinner invite the poor and crippled.
August 25, 2017 is the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.
August 29, 2005 is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
September 1, 2008 is the anniversary of Hurricane Gustav.
Labor Day weekend. The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. In the aftermath of the deaths of a number of workers during a strike in 1894 Pullman President Grover Cleveland helped rush through Congress. Pray for all who shoulder the tasks of human labor—in the marketplace, in factories and offices, in the professions, and in family living. For the gift and opportunity of work. For all who long for just employment and those who work to defend the rights and needs of workers everywhere.
By Faith, Welcome the Stranger
The climax of Hebrews, the final chapter, 13, speaks powerfully to our context: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
Hebrews is sometimes called a letter, but it is more of a sermon. The author identifies it as an exhortation (13:22). Amy Jill Levine (The Jewish Annotated New Testament) suggests this could be a synagogue sermon delivered on the ninth day of Ab, commemorating the destruction of the first and second temples. The author and place of writing are unknown. It has cadences and alliteration. Some of the best Greek in the New Testament. The phrase “by faith” introduces all biblical characters in chapter 11. Jesus is fully human in Hebrews, but also the Son of God, so higher than all other creatures. Jesus is superior to the Levitical priests according to the author, because his sacrifice is complete and final.
Chapter 13 begins with an exhortation to love, and then to show hospitality to strangers (philoxenia). Hospitality to strangers was a great virtue in the ancient Mediterranean. It was a sacred duty (Gen. 19, Judges 19:19ff, Job 31:32, Rom. 12:13, 1 Pet. 4:9). To fail to do so, was to sin against heavenly beings, who often visited the earth disguised as beggars. Abraham entertained angels unaware in Genesis 18.
The author goes on to tell listeners to remember those in prison, especially those being tortured. Do so as if you yourself were in prison. Do unto others… put yourself in their shoes. The Greek literally says “as if you were in their body.” You may not have the power to change the situation, but you can accompany, walk alongside.
Then, in verse 4, honor marriage vows. These are common moral exhortations found in Matthew, Mark, Ephesians and Josephus. Don’t just honor your marriage, but also others’, by not participating in adultery or fornication.
Keep your lives free of love of money. Learn to be content with what you have. We know no matter how much we have, we always want more. Always. The author encourages us to be generous and check our greed.
Remember your leaders and imitate them. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Jesus’ saving power will not wane.
Don’t get carried away with strange teachings. Dr. Levine points to “Eph 4.14; Col 2.8; 1 Tim 1.3–7. Regulations about food, perhaps a reference to Jewish dietary laws or to the issue of meat offered to idols (see Acts 15; 1 Cor 8). Verse 9, one verse beyond our text, says we should stick to grace, not law.
Finally, we jump to verses 15-16:
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
The psalms talk about “a sacrifice of praise” many times. Your praise is your sacrifice. This is both metaphorical, and a call away from atonement by animal sacrifice, common to both Jewish and pagan religious practice.
So Christians should comport themselves with hospitality, generosity, praise and respect for marriage, while shunning adultery, greed and legalism.
This passage may sound like law, because of its heavy emphasis on exhortation, but it focuses heavily on grace as well, as opposed to works of the law, and keep in mind that the author has just spoken of Christ as the great high priest whose sacrifice has done what we cannot. These exhortations to good works are not to earn salvation, they are the response.
The Last Shall Be First
Our gospel text today begins with Luke 14:1, then jumps to verses 7-14. Verses 2-6 never appear in the Lutheran lectionary. The missing verses recount another Sabbath healing, something we have heard from Luke already.
Verse one sets the stage.
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
Jesus has been invited to a Sabbath meal at the home of a leader of the Pharisees. Luke clues us in that this is a trap: “They were watching him closely.”
In verses 2-6, Jesus heals a man with dropsy (hydrpikos). This is the only place this word appears in Luke’s gospel. Dropsy is a swelling due to fluid retention. It is caused by an underlying problem: edema. In his commentary on Luke, David Jeffrey says the condition was associated (incorrectly) in rabbinic tradition with sexually transmitted disease. In Luke, Jesus reaches through walls of shame. Jesus taunts them, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Why would he provoke them, knowing full well what they think? I’m not sure, but it’s interesting that they don’t answer.
“If you have a child or even an ox that falls in a well,” Jesus asks, “would you not pull it out on the Sabbath?” Jesus is appealing to our most basic sense of justice and compassion. He appeals to their common sense. The obvious answer to the rhetorical question is, “Of course.” Once again, they cannot answer. The law only gets you so far. If the law gets in the way of loving God and neighbor, it must be disregarded.
They have been scrutinizing him, “watching him closely” (v. 1). Now we discover that Jesus has been watching them closely too, in particular how they have been scrambling for the best seats in the house. He sees this for what it is, an exercise in privilege and status. Who gets to sit where has always been a thing. The rich and powerful have always taken advantage of the poor and weak.
Jesus knows this runs counter to the very law the Pharisees tout. Leviticus 19:15 says,
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.
The laws of hospitality imply a certain amount of humility. We put the other first. Leviticus 19:18.
As then, so today, most status is tied to wealth. The wealthy are almost always treated with more respect and kindness. They are given more privileges. The more you have, the more you seem to get. A mark of godly spirituality can be seen how we treat the poor and those from whom we cannot benefit. In particular, this applies to strangers, whom we may never see again, from whom we cannot benefit.
Who are the people in your life that you treat with greater respect and deference? Make a list. Why do you treat them this way? Think about it for a long time. Go for a walk. Ask your folks the same question. Give them a moment to ponder it.
Jesus spells this out in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is central to his theology. James picks up the theme and expounds upon it (2:2-4):
“For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”
A challenging read on power and privilege is “Power, Privilege and Difference,” by Allan Johnson. How do status and privilege function in your congregation’s immediate community? Are there ways you can point this out in humorous or anecdotal ways that make us laugh at ourselves and rethink our allegiances? Perhaps some stories about how people behave in lines, something we experience every day. The grocery is an anxious system. Observe. The line at the airport is an anxious system. Traffic is an everyday lesson that allows people to laugh at their own behavior.
As often happens in Wisdom Literature, Jesus shows that scrambling for the seats of privilege (protoklisiai) is not only unjust, but as it turns out, it is unwise. It could turn it to be potentially embarrassing if you overshoot your status and get asked to take a lower place. Much better to shoot for the lowest place and then get asked to come forward. Proverbs 25:6-7 says,
Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
Jesus is not making this stuff up. He is calling the Pharisees back to the deepest traditions of their elders and their common scriptures.
Jesus says, “So, when you throw a party, don’t invite your rich neighbors.” Luke assumes a wealthy community is hearing his gospel. Don’t invite those who can reward you or pay you back. Don’t use your invitation to gain favors for yourself. Invite those who cannot pay you back. That’s true hospitality. Who are those people in your community?
This is not an ancillary teaching of Jesus. It is at the heart of his theology as laid out in Luke’s gospel. This theology somehow makes it to the apostle Paul, who points out Jesus’ humility in many places, not the least of which is Philippians 2, where Paul points out that Jesus, though in the form of God, did not go to the front of the line in his earthly pilgrimage, but instead took on the form of a servant and even endured the shame of the cross.
Paul lives this out. He points out that though he has the right to have a wife, he chooses not to. Although Paul has a right to receive pay for his ministry, he chooses not to. I’m not saying pastors should be celibate and not take salaries. Paul defends pastors’ right to do so. He just chooses to make tents for a living so he can serve for free. There are many who do this. What I am saying is there will be times in life when we will (and must) choose to take a lesser place, even though we have the right to a higher place. This is because we learn volumes in the lesser place, and because we know that joy is not really found in status.
What if a mark of a Christ-follower is a simple behavior of not pushing to the front of the line? Never insisting on being first. Often willingly taking the last place. What might that look like? What witness might it promote in our world? In your town?
How is your congregation welcoming strangers who come to your assembly? How is your congregation showing hospitality to strangers in the community? How might we live into this more fully?
When people see so-called Christians demanding privileges, insisting on first place, pushing to the front of the line, they instinctively intuit that these are not a spiritual persons. There simply isn’t much awareness.
Instead, let us become “exalted” by taking the last place, for those who exalt themselves will inevitably be humbled. Pride goeth before the fall. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. This is the quintessential Jesus.