The pecking order among our poor miserable humanity can be brutal. People will go to great lengths, accomplish impressive feats or commit all sorts of immoral acts, just to get a bit closer to the top of the pile - whatever particular pile they’re on. Overattention to “status” doesn’t have to be rational. It’s easy to imagine someone boasts oh so very proudly about being the biggest fish in a tiny little pond, or someone who feels like they are useless because they’re not the ruler of a small country. Everyone has moments like this, especially when we get defensive. To some extent having an unspoken hierarchy in a group of people is natural… we have varying gifts, and differing talents show up in different ways. But all too often the temptation is to set our heart’s pride, our fear and love and trust, on our status before the people around us. That’s a different kind of idolatry – not worshipping a statue or idolizing an idea, but putting too much faith in the opinions of men. …
“1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.” In the gospel reading today [from Luke 14:1-11], we find a delicate situation over dinner. The pecking order seemed to be … the elites of Jerusalem. Some among the Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus. He didn’t play favorites [Mt 22:16b; Ac 10:34]. He didn’t seem to be impressed by how rigorously they showed off righteousness to others. Jesus had called them all – everyone really, to repentance and faith. The pharisees in particular had become increasingly antagonistic, and had recently tried to scare Him away from Jerusalem [Lk 13:31]. But He was undaunted. Rather than risk embarrassment by engaging Him in open questioning while He taught publicly, these big fish in the small city thought to invite Him to a private dinner party. They want to sort out the pecking order, but are at cross-purposes with Jesus who is here to seek and save the lost.
So Jesus asks a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” The man before them had an ugly disease, unpleasant to behold, painful and ultimately fatal. Jesus had the power to heal him, to do a good work according to the fifth commandment by helping and supporting his neighbor in this physical need, as it is written: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk 12:31,et al). Yet it was also the sabbath day, and the Law commanded that no work be done on this day of rest. Exodus 20[:8-11 esv] says: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” So by asking the assembled group a question about the Law, He’s giving them a chance to distinguish themselves.
Yet they are trapped by His question, ‘is it lawful.’ They cannot recommend healing the man without also suggesting a break in the rigorous sabbath protocols they have added to distinguish themselves. And if they recommend ignoring the man, they fail to love their neighbor as themselves. 1 The answer is obvious: heal the man! But they couldn’t say anything: “5 [H]e said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.” Their motivation had been pride, using the Law to gain advantages over one another for status or pride of place. Jesus reveals how impossible this is in the end. They cannot help but fall short of one commandment or another. The Law sheds light on our poor miserable condition. It always shows what is good. It does not change, it is not taken away, and this reveals that we are sinners and that Christ Jesus alone is righteous.
Self-aggrandizing pride tries to use the Law to gain status and distinction among our neighbors. Our era is not a stranger to this temptation. Beware the temptation to broadcast your superiority; such is no different than the Pharisees. It is self-aggrandizing pride that tries to use the Law to gain status and distinction among our neighbors, whereas self-giving Love acts within the Law for the good of our neighbors. That’s what Jesus did – He took the diseased man and healed him. Jesus gives with self-giving love, keeping the commandment to protect human life, and bringing rest and restoration to the weary on the sabbath day. It is written in Romans 13[:10b]: “love is the fulfilling of the law.” Jesus Himself fulfills the law by His perfect Love. He took on human nature, laid aside His godly majesty for a time, was crucified and died and buried. He perfectly fulfilled the Sabbath by His three-day rest in the tomb, that we might have rest and peace in Him. He gave of Himself so that we poor miserable low-status sinners would receive His righteousness by faith. Your sins are forgiven. He rose again in the flesh to secure for you a place at Heaven’s high feast, and has ascended to prepare a place of perfect eternal sabbath rest for you who believe.
That’s the status that matters. Rather than put all our trust in what the world thinks of us and how we can brag about being the biggest fish in a little pond, we are most secure by being made to stand rightly before the Lord God almighty. We cannot put ourselves forward in His presence as if our good works could ever make us righteous. Rather, in repentant humility we let the Lord of the Feast put us in the place we should be. Jesus points this out with the example of the seating arrangements: “8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.” Rather than assigning yourself a place, grant that our Lord, the Host, put us where we ought to be.
This means we are free to love one another without all the baggage of self-aggrandizement. We can maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, walking together humbly because we have been called together by the same Lord: one Lord, one faith, one Baptism. We have Him in common.
At Heaven’s high feast, none are greater or lesser than another. For all of us have sinned, and yet we are brought forward to a good place by the blood of Christ Jesus, shed for us to forgive our sins. All who are brought near to Christ in the holy communion this day, who gather around this altar in common confession of faith … we kneel at the same level, humbly to receive the mercy and good place that He gives. Perfect love has fulfilled the Law. He says to you, o repentant believer: “friend, go higher.” In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
 It ought to be pointed out that they seem fixated on the particularities of the Law, and so miss the purpose for each of these commandments. They focus on ‘no work’ and miss the ‘rest,’ or potentially fret about the burden of healing, and miss the ‘restoration’ that comes from finding our Sabbath Rest in the restorative Word of God. The Letter of the Law is not abolished, but neither should we ignore the purpose and spirit of it. The Letter of the Law and the Spirit of the Law are not opposed to one another. Only in Christ Jesus can the letter-particulars of the Law and the Spirit of the Law be kept.