Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 17] September 1, 2019
1 One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. 7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
In the Name of Jesus.
An email to me. You’ve received emails like this. About a month ago, O’Reilly Auto Parts sent me an email. It was a nice email. They were giving me a gift. I like gifts. $10.00 to me as a gift.
O’Reilly was very appreciative of me. Over the previous three or four months I had bought from them a water pump, some gasket cement, and a starter, and two shocks, and a battery, and a breaker bar, along with some antifreeze, some oil, and some other things.
So now they’re giving me a gift of $10.00 on my next purchase. I think they consider me a likeable enough guy and they want to be my friend.
Or maybe it’s just a gift in the way of the world. Which means it’s no gift at all. It’s a trade-off, it’s a deal made, it’s a quid pro quo, but it’s no gift. It’s being given to me to keep me on the hook and to get more business from me next month.
[Jesus said] to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”
Jesus gives gifts. Not gifts in the way of the world. Not trade-offs, deals-made, and quid pro quos, but real gifts. He gives them not to reward gifts given to him in the past, nor to those with something of value to trade, nor to those from whom he will expect a return in the future. But real gifts. Gifts to those with nothing to give in return.
When you give a feast, says Jesus, don’t invite those who can pay you back, who don’t need your feast anyway, invite, he says, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. Invite those to whom it is pure gift.
Jesus came to give gifts.
Our sinful flesh though, our sinful flesh which is not good at receiving gifts because in our sin, we are arrogant and we want to justify ourselves by our own work—our sinful flesh sees the gift of Jesus, and tries to fit itself in as somehow deserving the gift.
For, if you deserve a gift, it’s not a true gift. It’s O’Reilly Auto Parts giving me the gift of $10, but they are doing it because I deserve it. That is, because I have purchased much from them in the past and because they want me to keep doing my part of the quid pro quo.
So in our sinful flesh we are tempted to fit ourselves into the gift of Jesus in such a way that the gift is something we deserve.
We can go this way: Jesus is giving me the gifts of salvation because he has looked at my life, and though I may be a bit of a sinner, I have been trying hard to be less of a sinner, and in view of my efforts, he gives me grace. I kinda deserve it.
Or, if I am ready to admit that I haven’t deserved it, then the sinful flesh can go this way: Jesus is giving me the gift, he is saving me and making me his own, because, in his eternal foreknowledge, in his perfect wisdom of all things, he was able to look ahead and see that I would acquit myself quite well, and, having received his grace, I would end up making a really good, really strong Christian. Therefore, in this foreknowledge, he gave me grace in view of my future good works.
Either way, whether due to my past sincere efforts, or due to something Jesus sees about me in the future, the gift is no gift. Because I have constructed it in such a way that I deserve it.
To come to Jesus as one who deserves gifts because of a sincere life or because of future effort, is to come as the lawyers and Pharisees Jesus speaks of, who will invite to their feast, but will invite only those who serve the purpose of returning the gift with their own invitation.
Jesus invites those who have no feast to which they can invite him—the poor, the crippled, the blind.
Jesus gives gifts. True gifts. Undeserved, unearned, un-payback-able, pure gift.
He came to give the gift of his own life on the cross. And now, having ascended on high, he distributes the gifts of his cross to sinners, inviting them to receive the benefits of the cross at his feast of the Body and the Blood.
Because, the gift from Jesus is the forgiveness of sins. Always, the gift is the forgiveness of our sins.
And the sinner, being a sinner, after all, has nothing of value which Jesus needs.
But by pure gift, pure grace, without any work of our own, Jesus gives the gift, he speaks the Word, and the sin is forgiven.
Now, as those who belong to him, we give gifts. To our neighbor, gifts of love. To the church, gifts of stewardship. We give gifts in generosity.
But we give them not in any way of return payment to Jesus, not in any quid pro quo, nor in any attempt to make it look like we were all along somehow deserving of Christ’s gift. For then Christ’s gift would be not gift at all, but just another return payment.
We give gifts. But we give them as those who have nothing of worth to give to Jesus, for what do we have that he didn’t give to us in the first place?, but we give them as those who, by grace and only by grace, he has honored to bear his Name and be his servants, serving out those things which he has placed in our hands.
And when we see our failure to give gifts freely, when we lament our efforts to put others not under grace but under the Law, when we are shaken by our own stinginess, in our sin, we come to him as those with nothing to give to him, as the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
And we find he is the Lord of the feast who invites those who have nothing to give to him, and his feast is for us.
In the Name of Jesus.