I. The surface meaning
A. The situation
On the surface Jesus might have been simply giving advice about how to best behave for your own advancement. But that is not the case. Rather, He was mocking the Pharisees whom, He noticed, were very worried about these things, in fact, more worried about these things then with giving some relief to a man with dropsy. He is saying to them that if they truly want honor among men and are willing to manipulate others in order to get it, then they should humble themselves to do so.
The parables are not fit for the self-help section of the bookstore. The Gospel doesn’t work well as a business plan or a political campaign. The parables are not meant to impart practical knowledge of how the world works. The Lord isn’t giving advice about how to be honored among men. For those with eyes to see, the parables reveal God’s character in the Messiah and how grace operates.
B. The ancient disgust
1. Every society has recognized that friendship is a necessary part of the good life.
2. In Greek the word for friend is the word love.
3. Friends are not “won.” Friends are attracted by one’s personality, common interest, and mutual respect. Manipulating people to be your friend, is to sell yourself as something useful to the other person. When women do this on the street corners, we have a word for it.
C. Repent. We have read Proverbs and the Bible seeking not Sophia, but Teknia. We do not want the wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord, but the practical knowledge that will give us an upper hand over the world, over our neighbors. We have been willing to sell ourselves for small gains in honor or entertainment or just for money. Our fantasy is not to travel back in time and stop Hitler, but to go back in time and buy stock in Microsoft and Wal-Mart. We are constantly worried about how we appear in front of men and think little of how we appear before God. Repent.
II. A Christological reading
A. Christ deserves the first seat.
1. He gives up the seat to get the son out of the well and heal the man with dropsy.
2. His Father debases Him, neglects Him, forgets and forsakes Him on the cross. The Father demands this. He says to the Son, “Give up your place to the one whom I love, to Adam and Eve and their descendants.”
3. He dies the most shameful death, in the lowest place, in front of the whole world.
B. The Father says to the beggar, the thief, the prostitute, and even the Pharisee: “Friend, come up higher.” Remember the word for friend is the word for love. He says to you, “Friend, beloved, come up higher.” You take the place of the only Begotten, the beloved Son of the Father. That is grace. That is how the kingdom works. The Father hates the Son and condemns Him in your place in order to bring you up to the seat of honor, to His side, as His newborn son and beloved friend.
1. Everything is reversed in the Kingdom. The only One who deserves honor is shamed. Everyone who deserves shame is honored, is reconciled to and loved by the Father.
2. The Lord offers the Pharisees a way of shame with men that leads to honor with God. They should be abased, ashamed in front of men, give up their seats to join Christ – even though there be no earthly gain or honor in it.
3. There is more here than first meets the eye. The Lord has not come only to rebuke and chastise the Pharisees, but also to save them. He offers them a glimpse into the Kingdom. He is the Lord of the Sabbath whose rest and Word restore creation and heal dropsy and death. He is the friend of sinners who raises them up to the place of honor in heaven.
4. The Son is also exalted. He submits to death, is shamed on the cross, but opens not His mouth. And then He is raised by the glory of the Father and ascends, bodily, into heaven on our behalf. For the Father and the Son’s love within the Holy Trinity is perfect and never ends, and that is the love that raises us.