Sermon for 13 Pentecost Yr C, 29/08/2004
Based on Lk 14:1, 7-11
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
In today’s gospel, Jesus is at it again. Whenever people become too comfortable with their traditions, Jesus comes along and challenges them. Whenever people grow “too set in their ways” Jesus surprises everyone and invites us to see another, alternative way. This time he’s invited to a Sabbath meal at a leader of the Pharisees’ home. The first thing he does is notice the seating arrangements, then, to challenge those who say “this is the way we always do it;” Jesus tells them a parable and draws a conclusion that is the exact reversal of their tradition, saying: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” This great truth of being exalted only to be humbled, and being humbled, then later being exalted is so practical and all-encompassing that it reaches into almost every life situation and applies to every single human being. I’m sure that when we stop to think about it, all of us can come up with our own personal stories of being exalted and humbled, or humbled and exalted. This is one of my favourites:
One evening as God was traveling the earth on foot, night overtook him before he could find lodging. As he walked a narrow road, two houses appeared before him. One was large and beautiful, the other was small and simple. Assuming that the large house belonged to a wealthy man, the Lord thought, “I will be no burden to the rich man; I’ll spend the night with him.”
When the rich man opened the door, he looked the traveler over very carefully, from head to toe. “Do you have a room for a stranger?” the Lord asked.
The rich man shook his head slowly. “My rooms are full of expensive furniture and paintings that I am storing until they will bring a good price. Besides, if I opened my door to every beggar who knocked I’d have nothing but rags myself.” Having said this, the rich man slammed the door shut and left the good Lord standing there.
God turned his back on the house of the rich man and walked across the road to the small house. Before he could speak, the poor man greeted him warmly. “Please spend the night with us. We have a warm bed and plenty to eat.”
The wife of the poor man seemed equally pleased that a guest had decided to spend the night. She quickly prepared some vegetables, set the table, and invited the Lord to eat. The food was delicious.
After they drank a cup of coffee and talked, the poor couple insisted that their guest sleep on their bed. Though the Lord did not want to deprive the two old people of their bed, he found it difficult to refuse. “You have been walking all day,” the poor man concluded, “and are very tired.”
The next morning when the Lord arose he discovered that the good woman had already been outdoors to milk the cow and had a hot breakfast prepared. After he ate a hearty meal, the Lord thanked the couple and said, “Because you have been so kind and devout, I offer you three wishes. Whatever you ask, I will give you.”
The old man was amazed. “We have almost everything we need,” he said. “Of course we wish for eternal salvation.” He thought a bit and then added, “I wish for good health for both of us and a little daily bread.”
God was pleased and said, “Health and a little daily bread are but a single wish. You have one more.”
After consulting with his wife, the old man said, “We can’t really think of anything else.”
“Wouldn’t you like a new house in place of this old one?” the Lord inquired.
Together the couple nodded. “That would be nice,” the woman responded, speaking for them both. Before the words were out of her mouth, the old hut was gone and a beautiful new home stood in its place. The Lord gave each his blessing and went on.
When the rich man arose that day, he looked out his window and saw his neighbour’s new home. Quickly he crossed the road and asked what had happened. Still amazed over their good fortune, the poor couple told the rich man their entire story.
When he returned home and related the tale to his wife, the rich man was angry. “Had I only known that stranger was the Lord I would have at least offered him a place to sleep. If I had not turned him away, we would have had the three wishes.”
“It is not too late,” his wife cried. “Hurry, fetch a horse and catch him. Invite him to come back and stay with us so that we can have the wishes.”
Quickly the rich man saddled a horse and sped off in the direction the Lord had walked. Soon he overtook him. This time the rich man spoke in a polite and kindly fashion, explaining that he had gone to look for bedding but found that the stranger had gone by the time he returned. “If you are ever back in this neighbourhood again, I would love to have you stay with me.”
The Lord thanked the rich man and assured him that he would stay with him another time if he was ever in the area. Then the rich man asked whether he, too, like his neighbour, might make three wishes.
Gently the Lord told him that he would grant him three wishes but that it would not turn out well for him. “It would be better if you do not use the wishes,” the Lord told him.
The rich man assured the Lord that he would pick out something that would be of benefit to himself and his wife. God said, “Go home then, and the three wishes you make will be fulfilled.”
As the rich man rode home pondering what great things he might wish for, the horse began to stumble. Irritated, the rich man cried out, “I wish you would break your neck!” Immediately the old horse fell to the ground dead.
Now the rich man had lost his first wish and had to walk home carrying the heavy saddle. As the hot afternoon sun beat down upon him he remembered his wife sitting home in their cool house. The longer he walked, and the hotter the sun became, the more angry he became. Finally, exasperated, he shouted to the sky, “I wish my wife had to sit on this saddle and couldn’t get down.”
In an instant the saddle vanished, and the man realized his second wish was fulfilled. The last miles seemed just as difficult as the first, even though he did not have to carry the heavy saddle. When he arrived at home he was frustrated at losing his first two wishes and very sore from the long walk.
“Come down from there and fix me a meal,” the man shouted when he saw his wife sitting high in the air on the saddle.
“I can’t move,” she sobbed.
For almost an hour they both struggled to get her down from the saddle. At last, worn out from the work, the rich man was forced to use his third wish to free his wife. In turn for the efforts of the day he got nothing but trouble, a scolding, sore feet, and a dead horse.
The poor couple, however, lived quietly and devoutly until their end. 1
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Amen.
1 Cited from: Wm. R. White, Stories For Telling (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986), pp118-121.