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 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.”
In this passage, Jesus is making his way towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. He is making his way towards the cross to give his life for you. He is going there to win forgiveness, life and salvation for you. On His way to Jerusalem Jesus is helping people. He is curing people. He is healing people. He is teaching people. And he is facing opposition from those who believe in their own righteousness, from those who do not believe they need forgiveness of sins from Jesus. Most of the Pharisees belonged to this group of people.
On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus stops by the house of a Pharisee to share a meal. This, of course, is striking because the Pharisees, in general, do not view Jesus favorably. When Jesus is there they watch him closely to see if he will break their law in some way. Yet Jesus, the divine Son of God, knowing their thoughts, knowing their opposition to him, knowing the plans they have for them stops to eat with them. And while Jesus is there he teaches.
Jesus teaches, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Of course this plays out in everyday life. No one likes to be around a braggart. People generally prefer to be around people who aren’t always talking about their own greatness. Yet this teaching runs far deeper than a lesson in morality. Jesus’ chief concern here isn’t really about whether or not a Pharisee gets embarrassed at a wedding feast. Chances are these men already have a pretty good understanding of the social etiquette in their own social circles.
Jesus’ teaching here is a call to humility in the presence of a Holy God who is inviting us to the wedding banquet of His Son. The humility Jesus calls us to is the humility of a child of God. It is the acknowledgment that we do not deserve to be children of God, to be invited to the wedding feast, to be welcomed into Heaven in the first place. This humility causes us to say, “I, even I, am the chief of sinners.” It confesses, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This humility never sparkles in the eyes of the world. In fact it goes against every inclination of our heart. Too often we want to come into the presence of God on our own terms. We want to come on the basis of our own goodness. We want to come robed in our own glory. We want to be acknowledged as the most holy, as the most important. And pretty soon we are choosing the places of honor for ourselves based on our own perceived goodness. This will never do.
Jesus did not go to the cross to give us a little help on our journey to Heaven. He did not go to the cross because all we need is some inspiration to spur us on to ever increasing heights of love and good works. Jesus went to the cross because we are sinful and unclean. He went because we are the beggars who cannot repay Him. He went so that we might receive forgiveness of sins from Him. The attitude God desires us to bring to His house is one of humility. It is an emptiness of spirit that says, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” It resembles a kid who shows us up at our door on Halloween with an empty bag hoping that we might put something in it. It is a brokenness of spirit that takes the lowest seat, so that Christ might give us his righteous through the preaching of the Gospel and then at the last day, Jesus, having filled us with His righteousness and merit, might come and say to us, “Well done good and faithful servants. Come, move up higher.”
This Lenten season let us reflect on Jesus. Let us reflect on Jesus, who for us and our salvation suffered and died. Let us give him thanks and praise that he has assured us a place at the Heavenly Wedding Feast that is not based on our own natural goodness or merit but on his mercy and grace.