People watching. You ever do it? For those of you maybe not familiar, people watching is when you spend time observing people in a public place. Some will people watch just to pass the time, others do it to pick up on social cues, but I am guessing most who people watch do it for the same reason I do it, the entertainment factor. It’s funny. It’s funny to watch people in public places – you never know what you might see. My favorite place to people watch is at airports. I’ve seen an older gentleman knuckle deep in his nose. I’ve watched as a young man head buried in his phone walked into a woman’s bathroom and then sheepishly walked out of the woman’s bathroom. Then there is the different level of speed walkers – I love watching them. There’s the slow-I’m-in-no-hurry walkers and then, it never fails, right behind the slow walker is the I’m-in-a-hurry-get-out-of-my-way walker who is trying to get around the slow walker but then gets caught behind the I-walk-at-a-normal-pace-but-I-stop-suddenly-for-no-reason walker. You never know what you might see while you people watch.
And it’s fun, it’s fun to people watch, but people watching can be more than entertainment, it can also teach us. I’ll never forget the one time I was waiting at a gate and I watched with amazement and respect as five thirty-something year old men took a moment to huddle up and say a prayer together. In that busy and loud public setting, there they stood lifting their voices to God. It’s moments like that that make me wonder what people see when they are watching me? Because people are watching. Let’s come back to that thought in a little bit.
This whole people watching thing isn’t something new. We see that in the first verse of our lesson, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.” Jesus was invited to lunch. Nothing new here, throughout the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we find Jesus was invited to eat with people numerous times. But notice the details of this particular meal, who invited Jesus for lunch today? “A prominent Pharisee,” likely a member of the Sanhedrin, that highest ruling body of the Jews. Now we might not think that’s a big deal. Jesus, he was a popular and seemingly important person of that day so why wouldn’t they invite him? But recall, remember, Jesus and the Pharisees didn’t really get along all that well. Jesus was upending their whole social system. That’s why we find that short sentence at the end of that verse so important, “He, Jesus, was being carefully watched.”
Jesus wasn’t invited to eat with these important people because they valued him and who he claimed to be, nothing less than the Savior of all people – their Savior! No, they were looking to catch Jesus doing something, anything wrong, so they could be like, “Yep, this guy’s a fraud.” “Nope, he’s no different than anyone else. Not a king. Not a Savior. Not anyone worth following. Trust us.” So, these Pharisees, they’re watching. They’re waiting. Funny enough, Jesus is watching too.
We read in verse 7 that “he, Jesus, noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table.” Jesus is doing his own people watching at this luncheon. He looks around and he notices that these leaders, these pharisees, aren’t all that humble. They all want to have seats of honor. Seats closest to the host of the meal. Jesus, he sees this. And we might think to ourselves well, what’s the big deal? These pharisees, they always had an ego. They always thought everything went from God, to them, to everyone else. No surprise then that they all wanted the best seats in the house. But watch with me, watch what Jesus did in this moment: “He told them this parable.”
Jesus is so bold, so loving, he loves all, so he speaks. He speaks knowing that his words will likely not be well received. He speaks, one lonely voice, in a room filled with enemies. And he reaches out with a call for humility. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.”
Now, did Jesus say all of this simply to give these pharisees some practical advice? ‘Hey guys, I don’t want you to get humiliated in a public setting, dial the ego down a little bit.’ That maybe was part of it, but just a small part. Think of what Jesus saw as he watched this game of musical chairs unfold. He saw beyond the physical rush of getting the best seats. He saw the motivation. He saw the hearts. See what Jesus saw in this moment!
Jesus saw the pride. He saw the real need the pharisees in this room were trying to fill-in with good works, the need they were trying to close their eyes to by filling their vision with positions that they thought they earned and deserved. Jesus saw the need they really had; the need he came to fulfill. It’s here that we find the irony of all of this. They, these pharisees, were watching Jesus closely, but in their intense gazes full of dislike, hate even, they missed who was standing right in front of them, their humble Servant-Savior and he was watching them, looking to save them from their sin of pride, a sin that left no room for him to be what he came to be, their Savior.
That’s something for us to consider as we look at this lesson from God’s Word. And it brings us back to that question from earlier, ‘What do people see when they are watching me?’ There is an unsaid thought in that question, and it is this, I care what people think, I care that people are watching me. That was the problem with the pharisees at this meal. They were so focused on the outward positions of honor and glory – they cared about how they looked to others – that it left no room for them to care about anything else. Which brings us to this point: It’s really, really difficult, if not impossible to be filled with the things of God, when you are full of yourself. It’s really, really difficult to think of others when we are constantly thinking of ourselves.
Jesus words here then were not just practical, words that keep us from looking vain and conceited in front of others, they were also meant to direct us to look away from ourselves and to watch Jesus, to see what he sees. To see what he sees what he looks at someone like me. And what does he see? He sees it all. Everything. He sees our actions done with sinful pride to advance ourselves in front of others, no matter the cost to them. He sees our prideful hearts that deem ourselves worthy to be in his presence, hearts that demand he accept us. He sees our prideful thoughts that conjure up false lies that my sin is “Fine, it’s not a big deal. God will forgive it, he has to.” Ultimately, Jesus sees you and me, sinners. And he sees too what that means, where we will sit, not with him in honor, in heaven, but far far from him, in hell.
But remember what I said earlier? Jesus is so bold, so loving, he loves all, so he speaks. He speaks knowing that his words will likely not be well received. He points out that sin, but then offers something remarkable. He offers us, humbled sinners, himself, a humble Savior. That’s who stood there in that room, the Savior, who made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Watch Jesus throughout the New Testament, who he ate with, and worked with, and talked with, and healed. He didn’t look for the best and greatest, he healed the leprous, and ate with the outcasts of society. Watch again in your mind what Jesus did on that night he was betrayed, he washed feet, dirty disgusting feet. Then he became obedient to death, even death on a cross. See once more who hung next to Jesus on those two crosses, criminals worthy of death, yet one, was given, offered new life, forever in heaven.
That’s where Jesus seeks to bring us to with this parable, to heaven. Verse 11, Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” We all want to be exalted, yet sin humbles us. It empties us of any grandiose ideas of us being our own saviors, but it’s not that humility, that reality, that merits God’s grace and forgiveness, it’s what we look to, what our eyes watch with unfettered focus, him, Jesus. In him, and only in him, are we exalted. And so, we pray, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” Because it’s there at the cross that we watch Jesus, God in human flesh, humbly breathing his last, humbly giving himself for us. So that we could be exalted. So that we could be with him in heaven.
This brings us all back to people watching. It’s humbling to know that every person I see is someone who has the very same need that I do. It’s humbling to know that God has given me, even me, the answer to that need. God has given me Jesus. Now, we see how we can be humble servants to others, just like Jesus. We can be bold, we can be loving, we can point out the sin that we all too easily embrace, but then let us not hold back as we point to the Savior. Watch him!
It’s fitting then that Jesus at the end of our lesson turns his attention to the host. And he tells what maybe was considered at first a joke, “Oh hey, there’s a party just like this one and at it there is a lame guy, a crippled guy, and a beggar – oh yeah, and a poor guy.” And the pharisees are like, “Okay, what’s the punchline, what’s the joke?” They’re at the party…They are at the party. Let us in the coming days and weeks watch for people like that, people who maybe don’t think they are worthy of anything good or great, people less fortunate then ourselves, people we might normally not approach, people who need Jesus just like us. Let us consider how we might welcome them in and share with them that Savior, that together we might all be blessed. Together we might all go home to be with God at the “resurrection of the righteous.” Amen.