Scripture: Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “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, 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. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-14 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Luke records Jesus taking on the religious leaders’ hypocrisy regarding healing on the Sabbath. The setting is a dinner party at a synagogue ruler’s house, and Jesus addresses the religious leaders with a question regarding the legality of healing on the Sabbath. The host and his guests remain silent. So Jesus takes hold of the man (likely invited by the ruler to provoke Jesus to incriminate himself), heals him of dropsy, sends him on his way, and then turns to the Pharisees and asks which of them would not labor to rescue a son or an ox on the Sabbath that has fallen into a well. Nonplussed, they continued to remain silent.
Today’s text is part two of the dinner party at the synagogue ruler’s house. Given that the host and his guests refused to respond to Jesus’ question and seeing how those invited sought to sit in places of honor around the table, he told them a parable to expose their self-aggrandizing behavior. Likening their dinner to a wedding feast, Jesus advises them to take the seat of least honor and wait for the host to decide whether he desires them to be seated closer to him. In this way, they will avoid embarrassment if asked to relocate to accommodate another guest of more significant distinction. And such humble discretion will be rewarded if the host invites them closer to him. Finally, to be clear, Jesus concludes that those who self-promote will be humbled, but God will exalt the humble.
Takeaway: As with his other parables about the first being last and the last first, Jesus draws on a familiar theme of his upside-down kingdom. In the context of a dinner engagement, Jesus draws the guests’ attention to the metaphor of a wedding feast. Such occasions would be celebrated amid the community with a considerable investment of time and energy to ensure no disgrace to the bride’s family. Sadly, if the celebration came up short of cultural expectations, the family could suffer gossip and condescension from their peers for the remainder of their days. John’s account of a wedding feast in Cana illustrates this point and reveals Christ’s full-orbed care of our emotional well-being (John 2:1-11).
As for the above parable, Jesus focuses on humility over self-promotion with messianic overtones to final judgment at his return. Indeed, the concern for humility permeates the breadth of Scripture. Elsewhere in our Gospels, Jesus addresses the religious leaders and his disciples’ prideful attitudes using a similar phrase: The first will be last and the last first (see Matthew 19:30; 20:16, Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30). And Mary’s Magnificat declares the Lord will bring down the mighty and exalt those of humble estate (Luke 1:52). Lastly, James (4:10) and Peter (1 Peter 5:6) urge their audiences to humble themselves before the Lord so that he might exalt them.
Okay, so we need to be humble, but how? From start to finish, we submit to the refining work of the Holy Spirit, who will lead us to the end of our failing resources to expose our pride that often masks our fears and feelings of inadequacy. In this “humble estate,” we discover that our beautiful Savior loves us not for who we would like to be but for who we are: a beloved child of God made in his image. And over time, guided by the Holy Spirit, we demolish our idealized images of ourselves and focus more on making much of Christ and his kingdom. Then only will we be raised with him in his “exalted estate,” fit to do his good works (Ephesians 2:10) and ready for his return (Matthew 24:45-46).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who humbled himself to become one of us and set us free to live as you intended. Still, we struggle with pride, which weighs us down and distracts us from glorifying the two of you and growing your kingdom. So would you please help us submit to your Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work to become fit and ready here and now and when he returns? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling