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Merciful Love, Properly Understood

Luke 14:15-24

Pastor Jason Zirbel

2nd Sunday after Trinity
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View PDF file

Sun, Jun 10, 2018 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Based on my life experiences, some people who act like they know the most about a particular thing are often the very same people who, in fact, know the absolute least about the very thing they claim to be the expert on.  The cold, hard truth is that they really don’t understand at all.  They’ve got it all wrong.  Maybe you can relate.  As we turn our attention to the Gospel lesson for today, we hear something of this nature happening as Jesus was eating dinner with a group of Pharisees on the Sabbath day.  Understanding the context here is important.  Jesus is invited by the Pharisees to a Sabbath day “business dinner.” They invite Him to eat as well as to pick His brain and hear what He has to say and where He stands on certain doctrines and practices.  While they’re eating, a man with dropsy (edema) sneaks in and approaches Jesus, seeking to be healed.  Jesus asks the group if it’s permissible to work such a miracle on the Sabbath.  No one says a word.  Silence.  Jesus then heals the poor sap, and then He immediately launches into a discourse on how if these guys had a son or an ox fall into a well on the Sabbath, they wouldn’t hesitate to “work” and get them out of danger and distress. 

This leads to Jesus teaching a parable on taking the lowest seat at the table when you’re invited to a banquet.  He teaches this parable for good reason, for the Pharisees He was eating with had all elbowed and jostled and fought for the highest places of honor at the banquet table.  Jesus immediately segues into how one should throw a banquet.  “Don’t invite your friends who can simply invite you to their banquet and repay you.  Rather, invite those who can’t repay you at all.  Invite those who can do absolutely nothing for you.  Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed at the resurrection of the just.”

And this is where we pick up the story today.  One of the Pharisees at the table, so impressed and moved by these beautiful words of Jesus, responds with a joyous beatitude of his own.  “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Amen, right?  There is nothing wrong with this statement.  In fact, we should probably rejoice over these words.  Finally!  The words and teachings of Jesus seem to be getting through to these guys!

And then verse 16 brings us back to reality.  This guy makes such a beautiful statement about eternal life in heaven, which causes Jesus to respond with another parable.  And make no mistake: Jesus teaches this parable precisely because the guy doesn’t properly understand salvation.  He doesn’t get it.  We can say this with all certainty because St. Luke tells us, “But Jesus said to him….” “But” – That word cues us in on the fact that there is a problem with what this guy just said.  The guy speaks, BUT Jesus says to him….  Understand: Jesus isn’t affirming this guy’s statement at all!  Quite the contrary.  He’s correcting him.

This leads to the big question: WHY?!  Why would Jesus correct this guy, especially in front of everyone else at the table?  For starters, Jesus knows the heart.  Yes, there’s nothing wrong—technically—with the words this guy speaks.  And yet…it’s clear from Jesus’ response that this guy doesn’t understand.  This guy is wrong.  The fact that this guy is so public with his error means that Jesus necessarily has to make public correction.  You don’t want anyone else thinking that Jesus approves of this error or falling prey to this guy’s error.

But if the words the guy speaks are technically correct, then where is the error?  The error is found in who this guy understands “everyone” to mean.  This guy thinks that “everyone” means all Jews—period; no one else.  All Jews, no matter their station in life, will ultimately wind up at the heavenly feast table of the Lord (with the Pharisees at the best seats of honor, of course).  After all, by virtue of their kinship to Abraham, every Jew has been invited to this heavenly feast.  They all have their spots reserved for the eternal feast of heavenly manna. 

This is where Jesus has to make correction.  Yes, every single one of those biological children of Abraham has been invited to the heavenly feast, BUT…not everyone will be at the feast table.  Some will have “better, more important” things to do.  Some will simply not accept the invitation.  They don’t like the way the master of the feast or His servant do things.  They won’t show up.  That’ll show him!  Jesus, in a very loving and patient way, is showing these guys that they really don’t understand how God and His gracious gift of salvation works, and their misunderstanding is putting them in grave danger of being locked out of the eternal feast; shut out into eternal darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

And it’s true: They don’t understand.  They look at Jesus, God’s chief servant, who has been sent into all the world (not just to the Jews) to call everyone to His Father’s feast, and all they see is someone who doesn’t fit their mold.  All they see is someone who doesn’t measure up to their ideals and expectations.  They definitely don’t like what they hear.  They don’t like how God is working things.  God is going to go out to the furthest highways and hedges and wilderness areas and invite outsiders and barbaric, unclean Gentiles into this heavenly feast?!  “Not my God!  No way!  Who does this guy think He is?”

And that leads us to one final point that Jesus makes in this lesson.  “I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” So often we understand this to be words spoken in anger; words of vindictive punishment.  “I’ll show them!  They’re not getting into my banquet!” I guess we can’t really be faulted for this understanding.  After all, this is how the world works.  This is how we would certainly handle such blatant disrespect and hostility, right?  You hurt me, and I’ll hurt you right back!  Folks: These aren’t words of vindictive anger.  This is a statement of fact.  The fact is that those who deny and despise the Father’s gracious invitation and His gifts will not taste His banquet, plain and simple.  They’ve shut themselves out.  The only reason they’re not at the feast is because they’ve rejected it.  It’s NOT God’s fault that they’re not there.  Because of their own arrogant pride and self-righteousness; because of their utter lack of humility and repentance, they will not taste the Master’s feast.  It is what it is.

Dear brothers and sisters and Christ: Do you know people who deny and despise these gifts of God?  Do you know people who refuse the invite because they don’t like the way God works, or they don’t like the way the messengers and servants are working?  Do you know people who have “better” things to do than to be here at this foretaste of the feast to come?  And make no mistake: This is the feast of victory!  You don’t have to wait to get home to heaven to start feasting.  I realize it will be inconceivably better in heaven, BUT (there’s that word again) here is where our heavenly Father continues to send His faithful servant, Jesus Christ, to feed us and nourish us with His grace, His mercy, His love, His peace.  Recognized through the eyes and ears of faith, how could you want anything else?  How could you want to be anywhere else? 

And that brings us a little closer to home.  I know we all have people in our lives who despise these gifts and reject God’s gracious invitation.  What about you?  You want to do mission and evangelism?  Start with the reflection in the mirror!  The fact of the matter is that we’re all just as guilty in our own daily lives.  And the only way this necessary correction (i.e., repentance) will take place is by hearing and listening to the Truth of God’s Word.  Consider the gifts of life, grace, mercy, and peace given to you by God Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism.  Consider how your Lord feeds and nourishes you right here, each and every Sunday, at this earthly side of the Master’s heavenly feast table.  Right here is where time and eternity meet!  Consider the very words you hear, spoken directly to you precisely so that you can hear and trust, words spoken in the stead and by the command of the Master Himself.  “You are forgiven.  For the sake of Christ’s bitter suffering and death, you are forgiven.  Depart in peace.” Doesn’t that mean something to you?!  It should.  Through the working of God’s Holy Spirit, through faith, it will and it does.  I pray that this is the case for you.

One final point for today: I don’t want any of you leaving here today wondering or worrying IF your spot at the eternal heavenly feast is in jeopardy.  Do you believe that Christ lived and died for your sins?  Do you believe that Christ rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty?  Do you believe that He will come again (just like the chief servant in the parable, who was sent to call everybody to the feast: “Come, for everything is now ready”) in all glory, to judge both the living and the dead?  If so, then your spot at the heavenly feast table is secure.  You are saved through faith alone in God’s grace alone because of Christ alone.  Hold fast to this Truth.  Fear not!  Be at peace! 

My simple prayer is that this saving faith in the work and person of Jesus Christ—this peace of Christ—is properly understood and witnessed in all that you say and do.  By God’s grace, it will be.

To Him alone be all glory, all praise, and all honor.  AMEN



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