I remember the first time I was allowed to sit at the “adult table” at one of my family reunions. It was something that I had waited forever for; it seemed like. All of my cousins are much younger than me, so I hated going to family events because it meant I was on babysitting duty. Then when it would come time for the meal, I wouldn’t be allowed to sit at the “adult table,” and I would have to sit with my cousins. My family had a rule that until you had a kid, you sat at the kid's table. So even when I had turned 18 and was a legal adult, I still wasn’t allowed to sit at the adult table. They said, “until you have a kid, you sit at the kid's table.” So off to the land of tears and mac and cheese, I went.
In our scripture today, we see Jesus teaching the Pharisees and religious leaders about the importance of humility and how it plays out in our everyday lives. Those who had come for the meal were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table. Now in this culture, the seats of honor near the head of the table held cultural and social significance. It was a little more important than me getting to sit at the grown-up's table at a family get-together.
Luke 14 opens with Jesus on his way to go share a meal with the Pharisees. Upon arriving, Jesus finds a man with swollen arms and legs. This man suffered from a disease known as dropsy. This is the only place in the entire New Testament that mentions this disease, which points to Luke’s knowledge as a doctor.
Jesus saw this man and turned to the Pharisees at the dinner to ask them, “is it permitted in the law to heal people on the Sabbath day, or not?” They refused to answer, so Jesus touches the man, heals him, and sends him on his way. He then turns to the religious leaders watching and asks, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” And again, scripture says that these experts in the Law were left speechless.
Jesus wasn’t afraid to address the heart problems found in the religious leaders. He understood that they, too, would be willing to break the Sabbath law if it were something that affected them personally, like a son or a cow falling into a pit. The problem wasn’t about keeping the Sabbath and maintaining the laws but about their selfish intent behind it.
In verses 8-11, Jesus continues to address their heart issue when he notices that those in attendance were all trying to sit in seats of honor. Jesus tells them a short parable and begins by describing a man who had tried to sit in the place of honor. This would be a statement to all the wedding guests that he was one of the most important people there. The man in this parable had exalted himself but would be humiliated when the host came and said to give that spot to another person. Jesus says that the person would be embarrassed and then left with whatever seat is left at the foot of the table. The parable concludes in verse 11 by saying, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
This is one of those scriptures that packs a punch because we all struggle not to exalt ourselves. Exalt simply means to hold someone or something in very high regard. Another definition says to glorify or elevate by praise. Just like the Pharisees and the religious leaders in our scripture today, we all naturally want to be viewed in high regard by others.
What you see in Luke 7, however, is that pride brings humiliation, while humility brings honor. The guest in Jesus’s parable that tried to sit in the seat of honor was humiliated when he was forced to move for somebody else. But like in verse 10, when the guest sat in the lowest place at the foot of the table, the host saw them and honored them by putting them in a seat of honor.
How often are we guilty of trying to exalt ourselves? We want to be seen with the best, with the elite, and viewed in high honor. The problem is that when we do this, we’re humiliated. People see through our charade, and we end up humiliated.
But God honors the humble. So how do we do it? How do we practice being humble in our everyday lives? C.S. Lewis says, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” So often, we think that in order to practice humility, it means we have to think less of ourselves and view ourselves negatively.
God has placed a special purpose and plan in each one of us, so we shouldn’t think less of ourselves. We all play a role in the kingdom of God. True humility is surrendering our wants and our desires to the needs of those around us. When we do this, we show the love of God to those in our lives and give an example of what true humility is: thinking of ourselves less.