Which place do you take?
We like to be number one. Nelly wrote a song about it. No one who plays a sport wants to settle for second place. The U.S. has quite a complex in particular, especially in the past hundred years, with being the first and the best. People say self-importance spurs confidence and thereby promotes goal-setting and success. We all want attention; we want to make it to the top, right now.
Goal-setting is important. Even the Lord desires for us to be successful.
With this preface, you should already have a good idea of where I’m going.
Not much has changed for thousands of years. In the Bible, even the disciples of Jesus bicker over who the greatest would be once Jesus laid the smack down on the oppressive Roman Empire. It’s in our nature to look like the best. This is why Jesus addresses this so directly in Luke 14.
Jesus is hanging out for dinner with some of the religious teachers of the land (actually important people!) (v.1), and Jesus is already getting scrutinized. The guy has a handful of scalawag followers, so of course he’s going to turn some heads/noses/stomachs. He promptly heals a guy, gets lambasted by a lawyer, then sharply answers the criticism saying doing good deeds on your day off instead of being a lazy legalistic bum is absolutely fine. (v. 5). They all shut up after that.
Then it’s Jesus’ turn to do the observations. He notices some guys getting the good seats (probably closer to the seat of honor or near the rich, reputable people) and immediately fires off a tasty teaching. I’ll let Him do the talking:
“So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
“Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” ” (Luke 14:7-14)
They still don’t get it, so He follows His statement up with a parable symbolizing God’s open invitation to heaven after inviting specific people and hearing a bunch of excuses. There are some heavy doctrinal elements we must grasp to wholly understand what’s going on there, but the basic premise remains that the self-important people are missing out.
The purpose of Jesus’ discourse is the reversal of social norms and, subsequently, neutralization. We need leaders, of course, but not at the expense of others by stepping on heads and necks. The most effective in-charge persons are those who recognize the plight of the everyman and see those attributes in themselves, then humble themselves in order to lift up others. The greatest people in history are almost always the product of habitual humility and humble beginnings.
It wouldn’t be long before Jesus Himself would embody humility to the extreme degree. There’s really no way to “top” what He did, but He insists that we copy His character and mentality. Take the low seat — let someone else have it. Your heavenly reward will certainly be great; but here on earth, if you do see a reward, it’ll likely come from the top position you vacated.