Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 2, 2001
Heavenly Father empower us to see everyone’s self worth in the light of Your estimation. Amen.
Title: “True Humility.”
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Jesus, at dinner in the house of a leading Pharisee, counsels both the host and his guests about humility and generosity.
It was customary to invite the “visiting preacher,” in this case, Jesus, and other guests to dinner after the synagogue service. However, the details given indicate that this occasion was staged. That “the people there were observing him carefully,” indicates that he was a curiosity piece, to say the least. That there were “scholars,” there indicates that they were more interested in evaluating Jesus than eating dinner. Finally, that a man suffering from dropsy just happened to be there, so that the scholars and people could evaluate Jesus, seems more than coincidence. This scene is a typical setup by the Pharisees to build, or at least add to, their case against Jesus. But Jesus went anyway. The Pharisees had their purpose and Jesus had his. He used the occasion to teach about humility and generosity, using accepted practices surrounding “formal dinners,” as examples of how not to behave.
In verse seven, he told a parable, the term “parable,” is not used here in its usual sense of comparison or similitude, but has the meaning of “rule of thumb,” or “rule of prudence.”
The places of honor at table; at banquets the basic item of furniture was, the triclinium, a couch for three. A number of such couches were arranged in a U-shape around a low table. Guests reclined on their left elbows. The place of highest honor was the central position on the couch at the base of the U. The second and third places were those to the left of “center,” that is, reclining behind him and to the right, that is, reclining with the head on the bosom of the “center”. At this particular feast there was a rather noticeable undignified scramble for the places of honor. Jesus used the situation to comment and teach.
In verses eight to ten, at this time precedence depended on the rank and distinction of the guest. After 300AD it depended on age. The most important guests arrived fashionably, late for banquets, no doubt to be noticed and, perhaps, take pleasure in unseating an earlier but less important arrival. When Jesus criticizes the guests for staking out positions of prestige he is doing no more than echoing sound advice given by many other sages, Prov25: 6-7. Worldly wisdom, even common sense, would dictate that one should avoid the possible public shame of being demoted by being unwilling to promote oneself prematurely. However, for Jesus there is more to it than that. He is less interested in “worldly” advice and much more interested in “other-worldly,” advice. His point will apply to all of life’s situations, not merely banquets for the rich and foolish.
In verse eleven, humbled…exalted, this saying appears in several contexts. It has broad applicability. It also appears in the form of “first vs. last.” In this context the saying teaches that a person’s real position depends on God’s opinion of him or her, not on one’s own self-seeking. The verse shows that Jesus is teaching much more than social etiquette. From good manners at table he draws conclusions about the Kingdom. In this sense the passage can be called a “parable” since it compares a “known,” good manners at table, with an “unknown,” behavior appropriate to Kingdom members or guests. Attendance at God’s banquet depends upon God’s invitation, not upon a person’s qualities, achievements or social standing.