Click on the image to see it full-screen.
Gospel according to Luke 14: 1, 7-11 (NIV)
1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In my younger days this parable was, for me, a cause of consternation. I focused then on Jesus’ advice, taught through the parable, that deliberately taking a lower place than that to which I would normally expect to be led would see me moved to a better place and that, as a consequence, I might “be honoured in the presence of all the other guests”. It seemed to me that the lesson of deliberately taking a lower place so that honour (of sorts) would later be bestowed was a corruption of true humility. The parable appeared to me to be endorsing feigned humility as a legitimate means of enhancing personal prestige.
I see now that I had then focused on the wrong principle. The key message that Jesus sought to impart was that all those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Conversely, those who humble themselves will be exalted.
It was a message he taught often. He used different scenarios to bring out point of the lesson. Luke recorded Jesus’ teaching of this message again in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 14). In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus pronounced seven woes on the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. In so doing, he again taught, using almost identical words, this key message (Matthew 23: 12).
So it is evident that the principle is to be applied not only in the context of accepting an invitation to a feast. It is a principle for life.
This principle is also applicable beyond this life. We see evidence in our news media every week of the manoeuvrings of the great and powerful and of those who wield the influence that is associated with possessing great wealth. This is the way of the world – but it is not the way of our Lord. Nor does it count for anything when we face the judgement seat of Christ. He knows what is in the heart of every person. He knows what is genuine humility and what is acted out as a ploy to gain advantage over other people.
His message is clear. Put on humility as a garment for all occasions. Be prepared to forego honour in this world and leave it to God to decide whom he will exalt in the life to come.