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March 3 lesson: Called to Serve

February 17, 2019
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Called to Serve

Spring Quarter: Discipleship and Mission
Unit 1: Call to Discipleship

Sunday school lesson for the week of March 3, 2019
By Dr. Hal Brady

Lesson Scripture: Luke 14:7-14
Key Verse: Luke 14:11

Lesson Aims
  1. Describe Jesus’ view of humility.
  2. Distinguish between behaviors that indicate humility and those that don’t.
The theme of the Spring Quarter is “Discipleship and Mission.” When the question is asked, “What do you do?” typically the answer is related to one’s job or career. Our culture tends to identify people in those terms. But for the believer, a person’s true calling has nothing to do with earning a living. Rather, it has everything to do with following Jesus.

So, our true vocation begins when we heed the call of Jesus to be a disciple, the issue of Unit 1 of this quarter. And as you know, a disciple is a learner, and to be successful in our ultimate calling we have to be shaped, trained, and changed in the laboratory of Christ.

That Luke 14:7-14 promotes a call to humility is rather obvious. But actually developing a humble spirit and living humbly is more difficult than it initially appears. One reason is that it goes against our own tendency to desire strokes of affirmation. It is difficult not to seek the honored role, to move down a few seats voluntarily or to pay attention to those who may not be able to give back.

Our culture loves to tell us to go for what is ours by right, to promote yourself and to “go for the gold.” We are encouraged to cater to the wealthy and well-known, the powerful, the movers and the shakers. It is acclaimed to minister to such individuals or groups. However, while ministering to these circles is not essentially wrong, they should be pursued in a way that reflects God, who does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11).

But back to the theme of humility! Jesus taught that under God’s reign, the way up, the way of honor and exaltation is actually down. It is down in lowly self-giving service to others. Those who seek self-exaltation and things of that sort will actually be brought low. However, those who forget themselves in humble service to others, God will exalt.

We understand this “lowly honored exaltation” best when we see Jesus, the Divine Lord, giving his life in humility for undeserving sinners on the cross. Thus, in advocating humility, Jesus was only advocating what he himself was exemplifying in his own life and ministry. And when we observe the numerous characteristics which depict Jesus’ role as the Suffering Servant of God, it is his lowliness, meekness, and humility that stand out. 

The context of our scripture lesson today is an occasion where Jesus was invited to a Sabbath day meal at the home of a powerful religious leader. As in most cases, Jesus was watched very critically by the Pharisees. They were looking for reasons to find fault with him. Prior to the meal, Jesus healed a man who was suffering from “abnormal swelling of the body.” Anticipating criticism for healing the afflicted man on the Sabbath, Jesus received only silence. Apparently, however, there was some hostility around the table, not a pleasant environment for a shared meal. 

So we arrive at today’s scripture lesson (Luke 14:7-14). It is in this somewhat hostile environment that Jesus tells the two parables before us – advice given to the guests at a banquet (Luke 14:7-11) and advice given to the host at a banquet (Luke 14:12-14).

Advice Given to the Humble Guest
Luke 14:7-11

Jesus tells this parable at a grand meal, “a wedding feast.” It is understood that shared meals in Jesus’ culture are occasions for the display of social status. The wealthy could display their abundance on such occasions, and places at the table closest to the host are regarded as carrying the greatest honor. 

Jesus obviously speaks to those persons present with him at the table. But by calling them guests (those invited), the writer Luke emphasizes that Jesus speaks to people who are in position of prestige. None of these guests are in positions of weakness like the seriously ill man whom Jesus has just healed. 

Now, in response to the invitation, as people generally do, these guests seek a prominent position at the table (place of honor). And this is not as foreign to us as we might think as we stalk the best seats at the theatre, or the ballgame, or church or wherever we go. After all, no one is more deserving than we are.

The end result, however, of seeking the highest, most honored place as this story indicates, is the opposite: humiliation. Here Jesus asked his hearers to picture a man arriving before some of the VIPs who picked out a choice seat for himself. In fact, he chose one of the seats of honor. But then unexpectedly, another more important guest arrives, and the host was forced to ask the man who had arrived early to go to the seat at the end of the table. How utterly embarrassing it must have been to the man who chose for himself a seat of honor to have been relegated to the lowest seat. 

I read about a pastor who was voted the most humble pastor in America. And the congregation gave him a medal that said, “To the most humble pastor in America.” Then they took it away from him on Sunday because he wore it. How embarrassing!

At this point, it is important to recall the context of this parable (Luke 14:1-6). Just prior to telling our story Jesus had honored an uninvited guest. He had honored the man with the swollen body who humbly sought healing, by acknowledging his suffering and restoring him to wholeness. Thereby, Jesus accepted the criticism and scorn of the religious leaders who saw his actions as a violation of the Sabbath. But like the host in our text, Jesus exalted the one who took a low position. And like the wise guest in his story, Jesus willingly takes the lowest place, serving others instead of himself. 

Thus, Jesus’ counsel is to seek the lowest place at the banquet table. By doing so, the humble guest will avoid the potential shame or embarrassment of being moved to a lower place because there will be no lower place. Jesus adds to this image by having the host address the humble guest as “friend.” At this banquet, the true friend of the host is not the person who seeks status but the one who acts in lowliness. And it is from this new position of lowliness that the humble guest will receive due recognition. Note here that the host reverses the guest’s situation so that the humble guest receives the honor that the self-seeking guest had sought.

In summarizing this first parable, Jesus repeats what he has stated on other occasions (see Matthew 23:12 and Luke 18:14). He makes it clear that God does not grant glory to those who exalt themselves, but to those who humbly take the lowly servant’s position of sacrificing themselves for the sake of others as Jesus did.

Leonard Griffith, noted Canadian minister, points out four characteristics of a person with a servant’s heart. I will mention his four characteristics and add one additional characteristic. 
  1. A servant is someone who works in somebody else’s house.
  2. A servant is someone who ministers to somebody else’s needs.
  3. A servant is someone who works at somebody else’s convenience.
  4. A servant is someone who does not expect to be thanked.
  5. A servant is someone who does not care who gets the credit as long as the mission or job gets done.
In reality, Jesus has status that belongs only to God, but he willingly takes the lowly position of servant, even to the point of death, for the sake of those in need. His actions reveal the nature of God and of true humanity made in God’s image. Amazingly, God seems to always turn upside down our ideas of strength and status. 

Advice Given to the Humble Heart
Luke 14:12-14

This second or related parable also has something to do with dinner etiquette, for it specifically refers to a luncheon and dinner invitation. It is noteworthy that Jesus now moves beyond worrying about what seats we get as guests at a table. In this parable, Jesus calls us to serve those who cannot repay our kindness. Jesus’ teaching on humility is for all, host as well as guests.

Invitations to meals in Jesus’ time are part of a culture of what might be called “returning the favor,” the idea of being “repaid.” Therefore, receiving an invitation to a luncheon or dinner carries the unspoken obligation to offer an invitation in return. The shrewd host simply invites those from whom he/she expects a similar invitation. Naturally, friends and family would head this kind of list.  But for extra returns on this investment, invitations to the rich might be in order for a return invitation.

Jesus, however, rejects all such expectation. Without doubt, Jesus seeks and accepts friendship with all kinds of people. However, giving in order to receive is the opposite of Jesus teaching of gracious generosity (Luke 6:27-30). Jesus’ point is that loving and hosting those who love us and are our friends is not inherently morally commendable. One expects that to be the case.

Rather we are told to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” An invitation to such people would be completely gracious, made with no consideration for returning the favor. It is a gift with no strings attached. Hear me now! The best hospitality is that which is given, not exchanged.

What is the basis of such generosity? The basis for such generosity is nothing less than God’s own graciousness (Matthew 5:46). Though humans may think of themselves as strong, we are all weak, poor and vulnerable in the eyes of God. In the eyes of God, our strength is unimpressive and our wealth cannot last. Yet God gives freely to us, as he gave freely to Israel when they were enslaved in Egypt. For all weak, poor, helpless, unworthy humans, Christ came to die, providing an incomparable gift that can never be repaid. It is only when we understand that we are weak like those whom Jesus describes that we can rightly receive God’s gift. And when we truly understand, we cannot help but respond with a likeminded generosity.

In 1980, my wife and I had the privilege of attending the Passion Play in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau, Germany. The story was that the man who played the part of Christ in one of the presentations used a heavy cross in the crucifixion scene. When he was asked why he didn’t use a lighter cross, he replied, “I could not play the part of Christ without feeling the weight of His cross.” And neither can we.

Now, the divine commendation spoke of in Luke 14:14 will come. Though those invited to the meal cannot repay, God will reward such care in the resurrection to come (I Corinthians 4:5). Notice that the promise of reward is expressed in the passive voice (“will be blessed”), which means that God gives the response. He commands those who reach out to the needy and minister to them.

However, real generosity does not look for a payback of any kind, period. Real generosity is offered free of charge, graciously, just as God in Christ has forgiven us with no strings attached (Ephesians 4:32; 5:2).

Humility Bullets
  1. Humility sees oneself realistically! We are a team member with a part to play, and we are pleased to do it.
  2. Humility refrains from tooting one’s own horn!
  3. Humility celebrates the success of another!
  4. Humility sacrifices one’s own agenda for the greater good.
  5. Humility is the lowly spirit that puts others before self.
  6. Humility is following a lowly master who willingly surrendered his life for the weak and undeserving. It is Christ-like love put into action for those in need.
Action Plan
  1. Explain Jesus’ understanding of humility.
  2. What are some of the ways your church can model gracious humility as a whole?
  3. How can you demonstrate humility in the week ahead?
Information in this lesson was drawn from the following resources:

“2018-2019 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 233-240
“The NIV Application Commentary, Luke,” Darrell Bock, pages 391-399
“Seeing Ourselves in the Parables," Harold Lawrence, pages 135-139

Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

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