On one occasion when Jesus was going to the
house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were
watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of
honour, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a
wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more
distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited
both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in
disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go
and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to
you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honoured in the presence of all
who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
The Pharisees were continually trying to
catch Jesus in some violation of the Mosaic law. On this occasion when he had
been invited to dine in the house of a leading Pharisee, he knew this was the
purpose of the invitation. They were so convinced of their own perfect
knowledge and observance of the law, that they thought nobody else could
possibly know it or observe it as perfectly as they did. Pride was their
predominant vice and the chief cause of their opposition to Jesus. He was
friendly with sinners, tax gatherers and the lower classes that they would not
descend so low as even to salute such outcasts, much less befriend them or try
to instruct them. Even among themselves, as on this occasion, pride showed its
ugly head. Each one thought he was more important than any other and was
striving to have the highest place at the table. In a very simple parable Jesus
told them where their pride would lead them.
However, Jesus did his teaching in a gentle
way. To take the sting out of his lesson, as it were, he relates the parable to
a wedding party -- not to a dinner party. Do not pick the place of honour or
you may have to vacate it when somebody more important than you arrives. Then
as all the other places are occupied, to your chagrin and shame, you will have
to take the only vacant seat, the lowest.
So not think yourself the most important
among the guests. That is for the host to decide. If he judges you to be
important he will give you a higher place, and your fellow guests will admire
your lack of self-esteem and approve of your promotion.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted" is the wise maxim that
often fulfilled even in this life. It is in the next life, however, that it
will always and unfailingly be fulfilled. It is in relation to the next life
that our Lord quotes it here for the proud Pharisees.
He then has a special word of advice and
reproval for the host, a leading Pharisee. He saw that the guests were the
well-to-do, those who could and would repay him. It was not generosity that
moved him but self-interest.
Jesus points out that if he were truly
generous and meant to give a meal to the needy, it is not the wealthy but the
poor that he should invite. He should be generous out of true love of neighbor
and therefore love of God. The man who is generous and charitable to his
neighbor in this life, out of love of God, will be rewarded by God when his day
of judgment comes.
This parable was intended in the first
instance for the Pharisee, but it was preserved in the inspired Gospel because
it has a lesson for all men and women.
A proud Christian, that is, a proud
follower of the humble Christ, is a contradiction in terms, Christ, the Son of
God, lowered himself to our level when he took our human nature. He was born in
a stable, reared in the obscure village of Nazareth; earned his meager meals as
a country carpenter; died on a cross as a malefactor with two thieves as
companions; was buried in a stranger’s grave. Could he have done more to induce
us to listen to his counsel when he said: “Learn of me, for I am humble of
heart?” Yet, there are Christians who are proud. Like the Pharisees of old,
they thank God that they are not liked the rest of men.
There is a little demon of pride in
everyone of us. There is a natural inclination in each one to esteem himself a
little better in most ways, if not in all, than his neighbor. We must keep this
demon in check and not let him grow in us. Any gifts of mind or body that we
have are from God; and our duty is to use them properly and to thank God for
the loan of them. If I use all the gifts which God gave me, to help my
neighbor, the spiritually poor, the lame and blind, to heaven, instead of
keeping myself aloof from them as the Pharisee did, then my judgment will be
easy, I shall be repaid in the resurrection of the just. Amen.