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15th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus,

Why do criminals commit crimes? Of course there’s millions of answers to that question. But it’s something that we deal with day after day and especially when we read online or in the newspaper or hear about on TV just heinous crimes that happen even in our area. Why do criminals commit crimes? The prevailing thought in our modern times that is just starting to be challenged is that criminals commit crimes because of low self-esteem. That criminal behavior stems from a “desperate attempt to compensate for a prevailing sense of inadequacy” (Psychology Today). That the criminal has to build himself up by tearing others down, has to control or overcome others in order to feel better about himself. So, you hear people say to criminals, and I’ve heard it myself, “You’re better than that!” As if having a higher opinion of yourself is what you need in order to not commit crimes. This idea that crime stems from a low view of yourself is really only a modern idea.  Throughout history it’s been the opposite. The reason people did bad things was hubris, or pride, or a too high view of themselves. And why is it that attributing bad behavior to having too low a view of yourself so popular and attractive? Because you don’t really have to assign blame, instead it was all the negative influences that the person had that made them do what they did. Instead of assigning blame you simply have to support people and build them up whereas in previous times a bad person was clamped down on, convicted, and called bad. This idea has seeped into many aspects of human life as well. I remember helping coach a middle school soccer team when we lived in TN. At the end of the season- we didn’t do very well, but there was still an award ceremony at the end where every person the team got a trophy for 6th place (or something like that)!

So, we live in a world that is saturated with pride and the way many try to deal with that is by fueling more pride.  We need to hear Jesus’ words. Jesus addresses the insidious sin of pride in our text for this morning. It happened that a prominent member of the Pharisees invited Jesus to his home to eat on a certain Sabbath. Now, given what you know about how the Pharisees felt about Jesus, it’s surprising that one of them would invite Jesus. But notice what we’re told: “he was being carefully watched.” In other words, hypocritically the Pharisees invited Jesus so that they could perhaps find something wrong with him. But instead of them finding something wrong with Jesus, the exact opposite happens: Jesus finds something wrong with them!

Jesus observed how the people who were invited were vying for the places of honor at the table. Let’s think about that. This really shows what pride does. The guests at the meal were not just happy and pleased to be at the meal and to find enjoyment in the meal, no, their enjoyment was all tied up with being in a better place than someone else. That’s what pride does. Pride is a continual comparison game. Pride doesn’t take pleasure in just having something, pride takes pleasure in having more of it than something else. We might say someone is proud of their wealth, or their knowledge, or their good looks, but the reality is that the person is proud of being richer, smarter, or better looking than someone else. If that person is all of a sudden in the presence of someone how has more money, more knowledge, or better looks, he loses all the pleasure that he had. Pride is a continual comparison game.

And Jesus illustrates just that. He points out how it works in the world. If you go to a wedding feast and you presumptuously take a place of honor and are feeling pretty good about yourself and then someone more distinguished than you comes, the host will tell you to go to a less important place so the more distinguished person can sit in your seat and you’ll be disgraced and humiliated. You were doing fine until someone more important than you arrived. So pride not only puts you in a continuous comparison game it also sets you up for a fall. Then Jesus points out that even in the way the world works humility is better off because if you do go to a wedding and sit in a less important place, the host may move you to a better place.

Jesus illustrates a number of things that pride does to someone. It makes someone empty, busy, and hurt. First, pride makes someone empty. Notice what they are doing. They are trying to find their sense of worth, value, identity, enjoyment in life in having a better seat at the table than someone else! Think about how empty of a life you must have if your goal is to have a better seat at the table than someone else! Someone once said, “If you try to put anything in the middle of the place that was originally made for God it’s going to be too small” (Tim Keller). But what empty things are you and I looking to for our sense of worth in life? Our career? Our talents? Our family? Our stuff? If it’s anything but God, it’s going to leave us empty. Pride also makes someone busy. It’s always playing the comparison game. It’s not about being at the dinner, it’s about having a better place at the dinner than someone else. It’s not about being blessed with enough money to spare, it’s about having more than someone else. It’s not about having a godly spouse, its about having a better looking or more capable spouse than someone else. But the truth is, you’ll never win by comparing. It will either lead you to view yourself too highly – as if you’re better than someone else, or it will lead you to view yourself too lowly by thinking you’re worse than other people. And finally pride makes you hurt. Pride comes before a fall. A pastor once said, “Every person has a choice between being humble or being humbled.” (Charles Spurgeon) If I’m looking for my self-worth from anything other than God – from my successes in life, from my good grades, from my income or career, from what people say about me, it will inevitably fail me. Someone will give a harsh bit of criticism and I’ll be terribly troubled by it, constantly turning it over in my mind, keeping me up at night.

The opposite of pride is humility. And what is humility? Humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it’s thinking of myself less. You see, the insidious nature of pride is that it causes you to always think of yourself and what’s going to benefit you. The way you relate to someone else is how are they going to benefit you. In Jesus’ 2nd parable here that’s what Jesus is saying. Don’t invite your friends, relatives or rich neighbors to your dinner, because you want to get something from them, you want to be repaid – you’re still thinking about yourself if you do. Rather, invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind- they can’t repay you. In other words, you’re doing what you’re doing totally in service to others instead of service to self.

So how do you get there? How do criminals get to a place of humility where they are no longer feeling like they deserve whatever it is that they are expecting to get out of their crime? How do you get to a place where you’re not constantly feeling better about yourself based on what you do or don’t have, what others think of you or where your seat is at the dinner? How do you get there?

Jesus gives us the indication here. It’s at the very end of the text where Jesus says “at the resurrection of the righteous.” He’s pointing to the Last Day. Who are these “righteous” ones? Those are believers. The word righteous is the word dikaioi and it’s a courtroom term. You see, if you’re prideful, you’ll always be in a sort of courtroom. You’re always looking for a verdict, what are people going to think of me? What are they going to think if I sit at this place at the dinner table? You’re seeking to impress, if you’re the best one in the room – you’re doing great, if someone better comes along, you’re devastated. The verdict in the courtroom is always determined by what other people think or what you think of yourself.

God gives us the real answer to pride. The key to a humble life, the key to a self-forgetful life is taking to heart what Jesus calls you here. He calls you “righteous.” It’s a courtroom term and it means “innocent.” Now wait a minute, I know I’m not innocent, I’m guilty, I’m prideful, I’m arrogant, I’m sinful!” But that’s why Jesus came, he came to go to court for you.  He was judged guilty and he paid the sentence with his death on the cross for all your pride and all your sin. And not only that, God has taken Christ’s perfect performance and has imputed that to you as if it were your own. And so God can look at you and me and say, just like he said of Jesus, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

Almost everything in life and every false religion in the world runs on performance leading to a verdict. If you perform well, if you do this, if you do that, if you’re good then you’ll be rewarded. But God’s way is so different. In God’s way, the verdict leads to the performance. The trial is over, the verdict is in, the court is adjourned: you’re innocent, your sins are forgiven, you’ve been washed clean, you’re God’s child. And you know what that means? That means you can live with humility and self-forgetfulness. You already have all the worth, all the significance, all the value for eternity in Jesus your Savior and with that you can stop trying to impress others or even impress yourself, but just serve others for the joy of serving. Amen.