Luke Parables of Jesus: The Invited Guests
“And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!””
Luke 14:7-15 NASB1995
In Luke 14, there are three parables that are noteworthy and will be examined in the next three devotionals. The first parable is this one, which Jesus told to invited guests at a dinner that He attended, followed immediately by the second Luke 14 parable. The context for the first and second parables in this chapter is that Jesus is asked to a Sabbath dinner at the home of a prominent Pharisee. They are watching Him closely, hoping to catch Him in an act that will lead them to charge Him with blasphemy or worse. It just so happens that there was a man at the event suffering from dropsy, which is known to modern medicine as systemic edema, with serious swelling of body tissues including the face, possibly caused by congestive heart failure. Jesus heals this man, which would have resulted in a startling physical transformation, after asking if healing on the Sabbath is lawful and not receiving an answer from the stone-faced Pharisees.
He then goes on to tell this parable about the invited guests, which is about true humility and proper exaltation from God (“the lowest shall be become the highest”). If you were invited to a convention banquet or a big wedding and received a name tag like the ones shown in my photo that have an assigned table, it would be an insult to the hosts to ignore that request and go and sit at the table reserved for the top brass and guest speakers or the table for wedding party and immediate family (hopefully alcohol would not yet be involved in committing this social faux pas, but it could be a factor). You don’t take a higher place on your own initiative, without an invitation. You may also think you can move to another, better table because you don’t like the location you have been assigned or don’t like the people at the table, which also stems from selfishness and pride and not esteeming others before you. In front of others, you would then be humiliated and likely be asked to go back to your assigned table. If the circumstances allowed, perhaps you would eventually be invited to sit at a closer table or the head table, but it is always best to start “low” and be content and not self-promote so that you are not shamed. Obviously, the bad behavior at event tables translates into bad behavior in so many other ways. I have seen people have hissy fits for not getting an upgrade on an airline flight or not being treated like a VIP at hotels or on a cruise ship after having done the “required” number stays or cruises (“Do you know who I am?” - that’s the classic arrogant statement of the celebrity or CEO or other person who spends a lot of money trying to be noticed and then belittles others to raise themselves above the “masses”).
David Guzik from Enduring Word has some wonderful commentary on this parable:
a. Go and sit down in the lowest place: When we are at the lower place, we aren’t there just to be noticed so we can go up higher. Nor are we miserable there, and letting everyone know by our facial expressions that we really don’t belong there. There is something wonderful in being content in whatever place God allows you to have.
i. Jesus wasn’t merely teaching good manners, but a lifestyle that in lowliness of mind esteems others better than himself. (Philippians 2:3)
b. “Friend, go up higher.”Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you: Instead, we joyfully embrace the lower place; we aren’t filled with such a high opinion of ourselves that we think we don’t belong there. If the master of the feast were to raise us to a more prominent place, then it would be all the more satisfying (you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table).
i. Especially in Christian service, there is something wonderful about knowing that God has raised you up, instead of you raising yourself up to prominence of some sort.
c. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted: When we seek to take honor to ourselves, we will always be humbled – if not on earth, then for all of eternity. The promise of exaltation for the humble and humiliation for the proud is one ultimately fulfilled in eternity.
i. We don’t have the same cultural situation for wedding feasts today; but we certainly do have the desire to grasp for a certain position or status. And we even learn how to do our grasping with a spiritual veneer.
ii. We may choose the low place, and act meek and humble, so that others may notice how humble we are. This is a subtle form of spiritual pride that is very dangerous.
iii. When we get our own position, either through outward or subtle pride, we can even say, “It was the Lord, it was the Lord” – but in our heart of hearts we know it was us, our own calculation, our own schemes, our own grasping. We should remember the words of George MacDonald: In whatever man does without God, he must fail miserably – or succeed more miserably.
Pretending that you are virtuous by demonstrating your “contentment” at being in a lower place by broadcasting your humility with the intent to be noticed by others is as bad as trying to insert yourself into the place of honor without invitation. Pride is certainly the deadliest sin, leading to all of the others. Jesus was ultimately and perfectly humble and He continues this parable by telling His hosts that they should invite the poor, the lame, the blind, and others to the feast because they cannot repay you. More from David Guzik:
b. Lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid: It is wrong to only associate with people who can advance us or give something to us. It is easy for us to limit our friends to a few comfortable, easy people, instead of reaching out to others.
i. Jesus here told us to not associate with people only on the basis of what they could do for us. That is self-centered living; we are called to follow Jesus, and He showed others-centered living.
ii. There is something wonderful in giving a gift that can never be repaid. This is some of the more blessing Jesus spoke of when He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). This helps to explain some of the pleasure of God in giving the gift of salvation and blessing to His people.
It is better to give than receive and to cheerfully accept the lowest positions without question or complaint, because that true humility will be exalted at the right time by the only Being that matters - God. I have had to learn this lesson over and over in my life, as I have not been particularly humble and have looked for (actually fished for) compliments and praise from others and have been on more than one occasion “put out” when I had to take a lower position. Thank the Lord for His marvelous teachings! It refines my soul every day like a purifying fire.
My next devotional will examine another parable that follows directly after this one in Luke 14:16-24, The Great Banquet.
Commentaries by David Guzik on Enduring Word and Blue Letter Bible are used with written permission.