The Life of the Baptized Is a Life of Humility
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
October 8, 2017
In the Epistle reading we hear the apostle Paul speak to us: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” What Paul is exhorting us to is living in our Baptism, as he goes on to say, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.”
The life of the Baptized is a life of humility. Paul is teaching nothing else than what our Lord is teaching us in the Gospel reading. It is the opposite of what you and I are in our sinful nature. Being Baptized doesn’t take you out of the struggle. Living as a Baptized child of God is a constant beating down of the sinful nature. When you give in to your sinful nature you act on it.
In the Gospel reading we see what that looks like. Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee, and he is one of the leaders of that group. While He is there with them they are watching Him. They are eyeing Him as those do who disdain what others are. Instead of treating this day as the holy day it is, the Sabbath, they are looking for evidence against Him.
When there is a man there with dropsy, a debilitating swelling disease, Jesus asks them, “What is the right thing to do on the Sabbath, to heal, or not?” They remain silent. They will see what Jesus will do. Jesus takes the man, heals him, and sends him away. Jesus then asks them, “Which of you if he has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath will not immediately pull him out?” But they have no answer to this. They know that He has trapped them in their own self-righteousness.
Jesus doesn’t just heal this man. And He doesn’t just show the Pharisees that they’re wrong. He shows how humility ought to be the order of the day, whether it is the Sabbath or not. The man with dropsy has the posture of humility. He is in need. Contrast that with the arrogance of the Pharisees who have placed themselves above the Lord.
And now the tables have turned. Whereas from the moment He arrived they had been watching Him closely, now it was time for the meal and He was observing them, how they were jockeying for position, trying to get the most honored seats. He speaks to them again. When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not take a place of honor. If someone more distinguished than you arrives the host will come up to you and tell you to take a lower place and in humiliation you will go from the front to the back. Rather, take the lowest place, so that when the host sees you he will come up to you and tell you that he has a place of honor for you.
Jesus uses this analogy because it pertains to how they are acting. The life of the Baptized does not pertain just to when you are invited to a wedding. It pertains to whatever you’re doing. That’s what Paul was getting at in the Epistle reading. When you are Baptized, this is how you live, as a humble servant. Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
This is the hard lesson the Baptized child of God must learn each day. To not place your trust in your own goodness. St. Paul says in Philippians 3 that we should not put confidence in our flesh. Even if there were reason to, we should not. So he says:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Is Paul arrogant? Is he giving evidence that he is above others? This is what the Pharisees were doing and Paul was a Pharisee. Paul did have reason to boast according to the flesh. He gives the evidence and there aren’t many who can match it. But far from boasting, Paul is debasing himself. He sees himself as humble before the Lord. He knows that without Christ he has nothing. And so he boasts in his Lord.
Martin Luther approached his Lord in a similar way. In his introduction to the Large Catechism he says, “As for myself, let me say that I, too, am a doctor and a preacher—yes, and as learned and experienced as any of those who act so high and mighty. Yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism. Every morning, and whenever else I have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly.”
Both Paul and Luther were brilliant men and steeped in the Scriptures. And yet Luther took the approach of being a child, a student, one who is learning each day. We can never master the Scriptures, we therefore live in humility. We don’t look down on others because they don’t know as much as we do or don’t live as good of lives as we do or don’t come to church as often as we do. We humble ourselves before the Lord and offer ourselves as servants to them.
Living in this way is living in Baptism. Not seeing your brother or sister in Christ as one whom you can serve is living as the Pharisees did. The Pharisees ought to have had their eyes fixed on Jesus as the author and perfecter of their faith, not as one who came to usurp their authority. You and I too must look to Jesus. Not just as one who is teaching us a lesson in humility. Be more humble is a lesson you can learn in any moral philosophy or religion. Jesus isn’t just teaching with words. He is painting a picture of Himself.
At the Last Supper, when a dispute arose among the disciples concerning who of them is the greatest, Jesus told them that the greatest is not the one who sits at the table, but the one who serves, and that He, Jesus, is with them as the one who serves. You do not know humility apart from the one who humbled Himself to take our place, not in His rightful place, at the head of the table, and not even at the back, but as the servant. He delights in doing that for you as He gives you His very self, His very body and very blood, for you, for your forgiveness. Humble yourself to not think about what you have done but what He desires to do for you. He humbled Himself to death, even death on a cross.
In Baptism you have this life, a life of humility, and ultimately eternity in glory. Amen.