On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited, and the person who invited you both may come and say, “Give up your place to this man.” And then, to your embarrassment, you would have to go and take the lowest place. No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’
Then he said to his host, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’Lk 14:1. 7-14
Throughout the Gospels, there are numerous encounters which centre upon Jesus and the Sabbath day. In this instance, Jesus has been invited to the home of a Pharisee, not as an act of welcome or hospitality, but very much as an occasion to “watch him closely” so as to accuse him of improper conduct. The Pharisees were preoccupied with Sabbath custom and ritual, so much so that in this case the Pharisee misused, and in a sense abused cultural hospitality and welcome for his ulterior motive.
It is in light of what he observes that Jesus shares a parable with his host and fellow guests. The parable, which explores the behaviour of guests at a wedding feast, serves as a lesson on humility. In the first instance Jesus directs each of us not to exalt ourselves before and above others. If we do it will ultimately lead to our humiliation. Conversely, those who humble themselves will be loved and praised by others and in time will receive their just reward.
By sharing this parable, Jesus is not just teaching about individual behaviour and attitudes but he is also referring to the people of Israel as a nation, who at the time of Christ expected that the coming Messiah would exalt Israel over all other nations. Because of their pride however, Israel is blind to and rejects the true Messiah.
The parable is also an exhortation to ensure that the good we do for others derives from pure and unselfish motives. We should not do good hoping for any worldly or material reward but rather we should always act out of charity expecting nothing in return. This call to act and love unconditionally is very difficult but it is one that we should ultimately strive for. Although we may not receive any visible reward in this world in return for our kind actions, Jesus reminds us that our reward will be an eternal one, given to us in due course by God himself.
Director, Mission & Identity