8. The Chief Seats

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 8. The Chief Seats

Luke 14:7-11   When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “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 person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 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 honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Purpose & Context: The purpose of this parable simply appears to be a call for humility. In that it does this, it highlights the pride that was often found among the Pharisee community, and brings a strong warning to them, and yet a warning that is applicable to all of us. The chapter starts with, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched,” (Lk 14:1) and after performing a healing (v.2-6) Jesus observes how the guests of this Pharisee chose the best places when they sat down. Thus he tells this parable.

The Content of the Parable:

  • he imagines a wedding feast and counsels guests not to take the places of honour.
  • the reason he gives is that someone more distinguished may have been invited and if they arrive after you, the host will ask you to give up your place to them and you will be humiliated.
  • he counsels, therefore, his listeners to take the lowest place so that the host may elevate them and they then be publicly honored.

The Call: The punch line that follows makes the point: ”For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  The Message version fascinatingly paraphrases this, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself,” and the JBP paraphrase gives us, “For everyone who makes himself important will become insignificant, while the man who makes himself insignificant will find himself important,” and the Living Bible simply puts it, For everyone who tries to honor himself shall be humbled; and he who humbles himself shall be honored.” A beautiful variety of ways to say the same thing: be humble!

Browsing among the Christian denominations, I wonder how many denominational leaders fall into the trap of these Pharisees and see themselves as ‘important people’, and dress accordingly and act accordingly. Every single one of us needs to remind ourselves on a regular basis that we are fallible human beings with feet of clay, so often prone to falling short of perfection, and if the Lord has allowed us to lead, then it is by His grace and not our greatness.

The Nature of the Parable: Although it didn’t actually happen in this place, Jesus imagines just such a gathering for a meal (a wedding feast – note how many times Jesus speaks of his future coming in the picture of a wedding (Mt 22:1,2,8, Mk 2:19, Lk 5:34, 1236, 14:6 – also Rev 19:7,9, 21:2) and in that sense it speaks more directly to the present situation than most parables and as such the meaning was obvious and could not be mistaken. That, again, is a difference here from many parables whose meanings are left to the thoughtful.

Extended Teaching: Not only, says Jesus, do you need to hold this humble attitude in public places but the lack of it so often means we become picky or choosy about who we will meet with and how we view other people. It doesn’t come up in the earlier teaching in this chapter but Jesus picks it up in what follows, using a similar context or background picture to convey how we should consider others around us: “Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’” (Lk 14:12-14) In this he points out:

  • the ‘give to get’ attitude that it is so easy to have – you invite them, they’ll invite you
  • instead he offers a radical way of looking, invite those who won’t be able to invite you back.

Although he doesn’t specifically speak of humility in this further teaching, it is implied in what he is saying, because without humility you are unlikely to reach out to the poor and needy for the alternative, pride, will forbid it. Humility sees past the obvious exterior, the signs of being in a ‘lower class’ and simply sees everyone else as they are – those loved by God who He cares for.  These are pictures of contrasts, the rich or acclaimed and the pride that often accompanies them, and the humble who understand the realities of who we are and thus do not make false judgments. A reminder we need again and again.

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