August 28, 2022
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Our reading from Hebrews today began with the sentence, “Let mutual love continue.” and ended with “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” It’s always interesting to me what sentences from scripture become popular with people and which sentences… sentences like those two… which sentences don’t get repeated over and over again… even though throughout scripture those two sentences are repeated again and again. The words differ… but the Spirit behind those words is the same.
In this passage from Hebrews there are two popular sentences that get lifted up all the time. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” For the life of me, I can’t figure out why that sentence of scripture is so popular. Maybe it’s the “angels” part of it… something in that idea of entertaining angels hooks people’s imaginations. Maybe that’s supposed to be the payoff to our not neglecting to show hospitality… or the payback. I don’t know. The teaching on hospitality is throughout scripture… but whenever I hear people talk about that passage… hospitality rarely seems to be the main thing… even though showing hospitality is so vital as an exercise of our faith. Hospitality is one of those core principles of ours that Christ reinforces.
The second popular sentence from our Hebrews reading is “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” You might have had a different translation’s wording click into your memory. I hear this one repeated often by those who believe that their version of the Christian faith is the purest form of the Christian faith… where there is no difference between what they believe and promote as essential and Jesus Christ himself. So… I most often hear that sentence of scripture quoted from people who are laying claim to Christ’s authority. Jesus Christ and me… we’re one and the same. My words are his words. His authority is my authority. Unfortunately, the claim to authority usually fails to embrace the heart of this passage so well expressed in the opening and concluding verses of our readings. “Let mutual love continue.” “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Believe it or not… that brings us to our gospel reading from Luke this morning. Jesus is invited to a sabbath meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. There’s a lot of authority posturing going on at the house. I’m sure someone is in conversation saying that the Law is the same yesterday and today and forever. The verses we’re going to skip over in Luke is a reprise of the main point of the story we read last week… where there is an occasion for healing to occur on the sabbath. Jesus directly asks these posing authorities, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?” Their answer is silence. Even then it seems that people who valued authority more than anything knew how not to take a stand on anything for fear that might jeopardize their authority.
So… let’s bring in our reading from Luke and see where this goes this morning. Listen as God continues speaking to you today.
There are two parts to this passage. The first part is that byproduct of authority… the seeking of honor… the growth of self-importance… the belief that you’ve clearly become better than others and others need to recognize that. It’s hard to practice mutual love when you deny mutuality with others… especially those who are beneath you. I mean, it is hard to empathize with some who… let’s say… may benefit from being healed on a Sabbath day… when you’re so clearly above such a need. Luke fills this passage with the worst type of Pharisees that we can imagine. Jesus is invited there for the sole purpose of giving them an opportunity to watch him closely… and your imagination can fill in all the motives and thoughts going on at this Pharisaic leader’s home. What advantages for ourselves can we get from this man? How can we use him for our own purposes? I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a position where it is clear that people are trying to figure out if you have any value to them… and that feeling of being tossed aside when they decide they can’t use you. It’s an interesting feeling.
Still… my standard defense for Pharisees in general is that a Pharisee was committed to living their faith in public. They were there to be examples of faith through their daily living by the Law. That’s not too far from us and what we’re to be doing with our Christian faith, right? We call it daily discipleship. Every Sunday here at Parkway… in some manner… you hear the message that the faith… the principles of our faith that we learn about… the examples from scripture that we share again and again… you… me… we… are to take that faith and live it in the world. We are not to neglect doing the real good our faith teaches. We are to be more than performative believing Christians.
The Pharisees were to do the same. But something else has become their first priority. That’s the judgment that comes through these gospel stories. Something else has gotten in the way of their doing the good their faith taught. So we can have Jesus asking them… what’s more important… doing the good that is needed… that is being called for right in front of you… or upholding the rules of the Sabbath? And then upon further reflection is the question… whose Sabbath rules are you really upholding? Jesus rightly points out that the exceptions to the rule… especially who is allowed an exception… and who is not… reveals the truth about our rules and upon what we base our authority.
They… the pharisees in attendance at this Sabbath meal… they can’t offer a reply. Afterall what is the response when the authority you claim isn’t built upon the principles you promote? What is the response when it gets revealed that the exercise of your authority actually employs a whole different set of principles… many of which violate the principles of faith you promote? I think that’s the textbook definition of hypocrisy.
That’s what makes Jesus’ next observation so pointed. The people invited are vying for the position of honor. There is a competition going on for pecking order. These pharisees are making plain what values they really hold. What I learned this week is that Jesus’ parable isn’t some new teaching… he is simply reminding these Pharisees of a lesson from Proverbs… a lesson that they should have known well as Pharisees. “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 doesn’t assert his own authority in the situation… doesn’t give them some special authoritative “Jesus teaching”… he points out to them what they should have already known. Jesus reminds them of their own wisdom… their own principles that they are failing to heed. What is the response when the authority you claim isn’t built upon the principles of faith you promote?
The Jesus of yesterday and today and tomorrow is pushing us towards the integrity of our faith. So going back to the words of our Hebrews reading… the integrity of our faith is in our practicing hospitality. But the distraction away from integrity comes in the form of thoughts about entertaining angels. Practicing our principles becomes overshadowed by what we perceive as other and greater benefits and rewards… benefits and rewards that feed the always ravenous monster of self-importance that lives in each of us.
Isn’t that the point of the second part of this passage from Luke? Serving the principle of our faith doesn’t lead us toward looking for some manner of repayment. The benefit and reward of serving the principle is the serving of the principle… not some other return on our actions. The principle before us is to show hospitality. But the thought of angels hints at some future reward that might come our way… that hospitality coming back to us… repaid perhaps by a grateful angel who has power and authority. The principle, though, is to show hospitality… period. No provision or fine print. No promise of anything else but the doing of the good that is pleasing to God… that is the sacrifice God desires. That was the same message from the Old Testament prophets we were hearing a month or so ago… fancy festivals and all the burnt offerings… all the effort at their performative worship meant nothing if the same or greater effort wasn’t being given to the daily living of principles of God. Or to give it New Testament language… you can’t claim to love God without loving your neighbor as yourself.
Now I know that at the end of our passage in Luke Jesus tells his host after the parable that he will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. And reading that it is easy to get back into our reward mindset… meaning the reason we follow our principles of faith is that we will receive some reward greater than the reward that comes with the following of our principles. But… but… here’s the thing. The resurrection of the righteous… this is that idea of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven… this is the idea of that age where the people of God actually live as the people of God without sin without separation from God… this is the idea of the world that has become… because of the following of the principles taught by God through Christ.
So… let’s end this morning then on those two sentences from our readings today that will help us to progress toward the resurrection of the righteous… “Let mutual love continue.” and “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Amen.