The Stories Jesus Told: The Place at the Table, Luke 14:7–11

By Peter Amsterdam

July 24, 2018

Luke chapter 14 opens by saying that on a Sabbath day, Jesus was invited to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. Once He had arrived—having healed a man who had dropsy on the way to the house—He told a parable. Some Bible scholars say that what He said wasn’t actually a parable, but considering that Luke specifically called it one, it seems best to count it among Jesus’ parables.

He told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.”1

There were important protocols in the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ time as to who sat where at meals, especially at a major occasion such as a wedding feast. At such occasions, people’s status and prestige were reflected by where they sat in relation to the head of the table, with the man receiving the highest honor sitting at the head of the table and the other most important people sitting closest to him. In those days status, social rank, and proper protocol were extremely important, and dishonoring someone by seating them in the wrong position at the table was extremely offensive and insulting.

Jesus noticed that some of those attending the dinner were jockeying for the most honorable seats at the table. As religious Jews, they would have been familiar with the proverb which states:

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.2

In recounting this parable, Jesus was highlighting a similar principle.

In scrambling to occupy a seat of honor, one ran the risk that someone of higher status who had a stronger claim to such a seat might arrive later. No host could let a more honored guest take a lower seat, as it would be a grievous breach of etiquette. The only recourse would be for the host to speak to the person who had taken the seat of honor to which he was not entitled, and direct him to move to a seat of lower honor. And since the other guests were already seated, the only place available would be the lowest place. The presumptuous person who had seated himself in the seat of honor would have to stand up, and in front of everyone, take the walk of shame to the seat of least honor.

Jesus told His listeners that they should take the opposite course of action.

“But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”3

Jesus said that it is better to humbly take the seat with the least honor, which may result in the host beckoning you to a better, more honorable seat. Rather than being shamed as a result of trying to exalt oneself, one would be given honor in front of all the other guests.

Jesus showed that humility is the best course of action, which He also taught elsewhere in the Gospels:

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.4

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.5

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.6

We also find Jesus’ teaching on humility echoed throughout the New Testament:

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”7

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.8

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.9

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.10

Having painted the picture of the proverbial guest who ends up being publicly humiliated by presumptuously choosing the best seat, Jesus then addressed the host of the meal who had invited Him, saying:

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”11

Due to the incredible importance of social prestige in Roman society (which included Israel at that time), it was common practice to invite the “right” people to dinners, based on the expectation that they would reciprocate by returning an invitation in the future—a practice not uncommon even today. Jesus most likely recognized that the Pharisee who was hosting the dinner and those attending the meal were caught up in this self-serving cycle of reciprocity. Jesus offered a godlier way. Rather than inviting friends, siblings, relatives, and the wealthy—all of whom would be expected to return the favor—He taught that they should invite those who could never pay them back. In contrast to the four groups of people who would be expected to reciprocate, Jesus listed four groups of those who were in need: the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.

Jesus pointed to a better way than the “payback” system of reciprocity, which is the path of hospitality without expectation of being repaid in some form. Generosity from the heart with no other motive is pleasing to God. Those who proffer such generosity, Jesus said, will be blessed as well as repaid in the life to come; though such reward is not the motivation. Acts of kindness and sacrifice reflect the love and mercy of Jesus to others, and are the fruit of our love for Him.


The Place at the Table, Luke 14:7–14

7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them,

8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him,

9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.

10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.

11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.

13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,

14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”


Note

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


1 Luke 14:7–9.

2 Proverbs 25:6–7.

3 Luke 14:10–11.

4 Matthew 20:26–28.

5 Matthew 18:4.

6 Matthew 23:12.

7 James 4:6.

8 James 4:10.

9 Philippians 2:3.

10 1 Peter 5:5.

11 Luke 14:12–14.

 

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