Dining with Jesus is always an awkward experience. He’s the kind of Guy who sits down at your table and feels free to start sniping at you and all of your guests. You never know when He’s going to launch into some shaming lecture that will draw everyone’s attention to your carnal motivations. Ever go over to someone’s house for dinner and try to snag one of the good chairs? Two thousand years ago, seats around the table in a Jewish home were strongly associated with social rank. Certain spots were considered places of high honor, and to sit there was a way of saying you were big stuff. One day Jesus is kicking back at a certain Pharisee’s table and watching the way the guests are strategically maneuvering for the highest ranking positions. There are no name placards at this table. The host isn’t telling people where to sit. They’re basically going for a status grab by parking themselves at the high ranking spots. Observing this, Jesus suddenly launches into a rather pointed parable.
When Jesus 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.” (Lk. 14:7-11)
Jesus is in the home of a Pharisee, and the Pharisees were bucks up. Their wedding feasts were very grand affairs with plenty of people in attendance. Large crowds would make it all the more tempting to grab a high ranking spot at the host’s table to try and let everyone know you’re someone to be reckoned with. But in this parable, Jesus criticizes such behavior as being much too self-exalting. He then describes the highly embarrassing situation of having your host tell you to get out of your special seat so he can replace you with someone who he considers to be more worthy. Talk about humiliating! And of course once this happens, the likelihood will be that the lowest ranking position will be the only vacant chair left. So you’ll go from being a somebody to being a nobody, and you’ll look pretty stupid on top of it. It’s far better to swallow your pride right from the start and take the lowest place as a signal to your host that you don’t expect special treatment. Then leave it to your host to honor you with a promotion if he desires to do so.
This parable has obvious spiritual applications, and Jesus makes this clear by throwing in that last line which is a reference to Divine judgment.
“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
We know this isn’t how things work on earth—often in this world those who push their way to the front of the line get to stay there. But Jesus is talking about eternal judgment here and He’s dropping a warning about how our Gods will be responding to arrogance on the other side. Throughout the Old Testament, Yahweh teaches that it is the humble soul who He rewards. But what exactly is humility?
Godly humility has nothing to do with thinking you’re a dirty worm or putting on phony acts of shyness. It’s not about pretending you hate compliments and applause while you inwardly bask in the glory. The kind of humility our Gods want from us is a soul attitude which honestly says, “I can do nothing good on my own, therefore I can take the credit for nothing. Glory is for Gods, not human beings. Anything I do is only the least I should have done. I fall so short of treating my Makers as well as They deserve to be treated.” At first our pride gags on the thought of being truly humble. We love exalting ourselves and we constantly hog the glory for the things God does through us. But as the Holy Spirit matures us, we start to get a more accurate view of just how undeserving of praise we really are. The idea of being showered with rewards by God in Heaven sounds more and more ludicrous. Why on earth would God applaud us for the things which He has done through us?
The more we realize how non-existent our own wisdom is, the more we see how misguided so many of our efforts to do good down here are. The reality is that we don’t have the first clue about what is best for another soul in a given moment. When we see God putting souls through hard times, we are swift to protest and plead for Him to stop. We have no respect for His wisdom. He knows what we need, but so often what we need isn’t something we want. When it isn’t, do we thank God for loving us enough to put us through trials that will benefit our souls? No, we just fuss and whine. And as we gripe our way through life, how are we even deserving of applause?
Even when things are going well, we are constantly trying to take over the project for God. When our ministry is thriving, we are quick to revert to the logical strategies of target audiences, advertising, and interacting with our audiences. If you base your operation online, you’ll be bombarded with smart tips about how to increase your fans. Open up those comment fields and engage with your readers. Get some advertisements going in the sidebars so you can make some money off of those who visit your page. Gush over people and tell them what their little egos want to hear. Set up a system of rewards for those who donate to your group—gold membership, VIP status, and perhaps even a little plaque with their name on it posted somewhere public. Get out that glossy paper and send out mailers in full color. Use free gifts to bribe them to keep coming back and make them feel indebted to purchase something from you. Where is God in all of this rot? He’s telling us to knock it off. But do we listen? No, because the numbers are growing and we’re frothing with greed. As our stats increase, so does our confidence that we’re doing a great work for God, when in reality we are constantly insulting Him by refusing to let Him lead. In our minds, we picture ourselves boldly marching into Heaven amid an extra loud round of applause. Surely God will be promoting us to the top positions on the other side because of all the great things we accomplished here on earth. And yet this is the very attitude that Jesus speaks against. He warns us that if we try to approach our Makers with such an arrogant attitude, They will knock us down to the place of least importance in eternity.
The ranks in Heaven won’t be based on the things we fuss over in this world—irrelevant issues like skin color, economic status, personality, and social connections. In Heaven we will all be judged according to how our souls responded to our Makers on earth. Were we constantly trying to dominate and control Them? Were we constantly shoving Them aside so we could hog the spotlight all to ourselves? Were we always blowing off Their convictions and criticizing Their actions? It is humility and reverential submission that our Gods want from us. We are the servants, They are the Masters. It is totally out of line for us to tell Them who to applaud and who to reward. Jesus says it is the last place that we should be taking, for passing out the promotions is God’s job, not ours. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our Gods deeply. It doesn’t mean we’re not confident in Their love for us. It means we don’t grab at the glory. It means we shouldn’t be trying to get the admiration of others by declaring our own importance. It also means we shouldn’t be casting judgment on others by deciding who is and isn’t inferior to us. Jesus tells us to take the lowest place and forget about being publicly exalted. He says it is those who aren’t greedily grabbing at the rewards who will actually receive them in abundance. He says it is those who understand and embrace their proper place who will be promoted on the other side.
The Parable of the Unworthy Servant