The keywords in this gospel passage are humility and charity. Jesus practiced what he preached. While participating in a Pharisee’s banquet, Jesus taught how a disciple should be humble to inherit an exalted position at the eternal banquet in heaven. The advice of Jesus to the host was to invite the poor who cannot return any favor to him. Then God will reward for such service to the less fortunate. Like the advice Jesus gave to Zebedee’s sons, let us focus on participating in Jesus’ mission. Then the recognition would follow on time.
Conduct of Invited Guests and Hosts
(Luke 14:7) Jesus then told a parable to the guests, for he had noticed how they tried to take the places of honor. He said, (8) “When you are invited to a wedding party, do not choose the best seat. It may happen that someone more important than you has been invited, (9) and your host, who invited both of you, will come and say to you: ‘Please give him your place.’ Then in shame you will go to the lowest seat! (10) Whenever you are invited, go rather to the lowest seat, so that your host may come and say to you: ‘Friend, you must come up higher.’ And this will be a great honor for you in the presence of all the other guests. (11) For everyone who makes himself great will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be made great.”
(12) Jesus also addressed the man who had invited him and said, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends, or your brothers, relatives and wealthy neighbors. For surely they will also invite you in return and you will be repaid. (13) When you give a feast, invite instead the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. (14) Blessed are you then, because they cannot repay you; you will be repaid at the resurrection of the upright.”
Jesus joined a banquet on a Sabbath at the house of a leading Pharisee. The people in attendance were scrutinizing Jesus because of the clash between Jesus and his opponents on the Sabbath observance. During that banquet, Jesus healed a man with dropsy even though the Scribes and the Pharisees did not answer to his question of whether it was lawful to cure on the Sabbath. Jesus disagreed with their lack of charity as a part of Sabbath observance. He made use of the dinner setting, to instruct the guests and the host on the need of humility and charity to inherit God’s Kingdom.
(Luke 14:7) Jesus then told a parable to the guests, for he had noticed how they tried to take the places of honor. He said…
Just as people were observing Jesus on his unusual conduct, Jesus was watching the guests’ improper behavior. They were competing for places of honor like his disciples, who had been arguing for a prominent position in the Kingdom of God. Jesus was not against an eligible person taking his seat of honor. However, ineligible people were trying to occupy honorable seats. The host had to ask them to change the seat to respect the distinguished guests. That caused humiliation for the inferior person in public. Jesus’ intention was not to teach them on how to behave in a banquet, but to instruct a moral lesson on humility for his disciples. The behavior in a secular situation reflects the spirituality of the person.
(8) “When you are invited to a wedding party, do not choose the best seat. It may happen that someone more important than you has been invited.”
For the Jewish wedding banquets, people were reclining on cushions around a low-level table. The prominent persons were in the middle and others were on the two sides of a U-shaped table setting. Though the host would not preassign seats, the guests should know where to recline. Once the guests seat themselves, the host would come to confirm if all got their appropriate seating. The host might ask an inferior person who took a prominent seat to move to a low-rank seat for an honorable guest. So, Jesus said, since the guests are not aware of all the invited guests, better take a lower seat to avoid later humiliation.
(9) And your host, who invited both of you, will come and say to you: ‘Please give him your place.’ Then in shame you will go to the lowest seat!
The prominent guest might come last. The host must honor him according to his rank. So, if someone already took his seat, the host has to intervene for a seat change. That will create humiliation for the one who occupied the undeserved seat. He might end up getting the least prominent seat.
(10) Whenever you are invited, go rather to the lowest seat, so that your host may come and say to you: ‘Friend, you must come up higher.’ And this will be a great honor for you in the presence of all the other guests.
The host will honor the humble guest in public when the host would promote him to a more prominent seat. If one would occupy the least prominent seat, there was no chance of shame and only opportunity for a higher position. Jesus said in Matthew 23:12: “whoever makes himself great shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be made great.” This is not a new teaching but Jesus’ adaptation of proverbs 25:6-7. “Do not boast before the king or put yourself among the great. It would be better to be invited, ‘Come up here,’ than to be humiliated in the presence of the prince.”
(11) “For everyone who makes himself great will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be made great.”
There is no chance for exaltation by others, for a person who boasts himself. Whereas humble persons will receive honor in secular and spiritual life. Jesus practiced in life what he taught. Though Jesus could escape himself from the enemies any time, by the end of his public ministry he humbled himself to let his enemies crucify him with maximum disgrace, after which God the Father exalted him from the grave on the third day. When God selected Mary as the mother of the Savior, she volunteered to serve Elizabeth.
Pride and boasting of oneself are indignity in the secular life and sin in the spiritual realm. For God, pride and disregard for the less fortunate are sins. Jesus presented examples of proud characters such as a rich man in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus, the unreconciled elder son in the Prodigal Son’s story, and the Pharisee in the story of the Pharisee and Publican who went to pray. The Pharisees were proud people who considered themselves as separate and dignified than most people low in material and spiritual resources. But their pride and disregard for those lower than themselves would lead to their humiliation in front of God.
(12) Jesus also addressed the man who had invited him and said, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends, or your brothers, relatives and wealthy neighbors. For surely they will also invite you in return and you will be repaid.”
Jesus turned his focus of discourse from the guests to the host. The Pharisees and Publicans had offered lunch and dinner for Jesus. All of them used to invite their friends, relatives, or people of their economic and social status. We also do the same. When we make a list of whom to invite for a banquet we host, we select people who had invited us for the dinner they hosted. Jesus finds no spiritual merit in such an invitation because it is self-rewarding.
Jesus taught the host that he should invite for the banquet those who do not have food to eat or cannot return any favor. Then the repayment would come from God. “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed.” (Proverbs 19:7).
(13) When you give a feast, invite instead the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.
Jesus taught and acted differently from the rabbis. In contrast to the widespread belief, Jesus considered “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” as dear to God. Though Jesus did not offer any dinner for such people, because he could not afford to do so, he did more than a banquet by healing them. So, besides offering food, Jesus wants us to offer help for all those who are physically, mentally, or economically weak. The best approach would be to help them resolve their problems with a developmental or self-help approach. Christian churches have been doing such missionary work throughout the centuries.
(14) Blessed are you then, because they cannot repay you; you will be repaid at the resurrection of the upright.
Jesus offered reward for all philanthropic acts in the life after death. Jesus confirmed this when he taught on the last judgement. “The King will say to those on his right: ‘Come, blessed of my Father! Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink…” (Matthew 25: 34-36).