And he spake a parable unto those that were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief seats; saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a marriage feast, sit not down in the chief seat; lest haply a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him, and he that bade thee and him shall come and say to thee, Give this man place; and then thou shalt begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he hath bidden thee cometh, he may say to thee, Friend, go up higher: and then shalt thou have glory in the presence of all that sit at meat with thee. For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 14:7-11)
Every time a prominent figure takes a tumble we are astonished! We can never quite accept the fact when the high and the mighty fall.
But Jesus offers a parable that applies to the "high and the mighty" as well as the "low and the weak." For that which makes a man a prime candidate for a hard fall is not his position but his pride!
Only as Christ can, knowing what is in the hearts of men, He puts His finger on the problems involved when proud men fall.
Proud Men Fall When They Sit in Judgment on Others (Luke 14:1). In any given community there is the crowd of mutually insecure individuals who feel threatened by anyone who dares to differ with them as openly and freely as they express their will. They band themselves together in a little clique and in a rather childish and snobbish way look down their noses on others who do not conform to their concepts or who resist their efforts to push their sound standards (or lack thereof) on society in general.
Christ is saying that the crowd was in for a rude awakening. They existed in His day also, and even invited Him to one of their social affairs. But Jesus was not invited to dinner because His company was sincerely desired. He was invited that He might be watched by critical, cynical eyes -- "they watched him."
For all practical purposes, Jesus was there on exhibition. Neither the host nor his guests accepted Jesus as one of themselves. It is not at all pleasant to be asked to dinner and to be put on probation, to have your every action and word weighed. But what those prejudiced people forgot was the One invited to their dinner was the omniscient Lord, and as such had a distinct advantage over them. They could not read His mind, but He could read theirs. He dominated the occasion. It did not dominate Him. He did not lower His ideals nor abandon His principles in order to sit "in well" with the rest. Invited as a guest, He proved to be most unconventional in that He became the outspoken critic of the bad manners of host and guests alike. In the parable He soon shares with them He says, "You may be filled with pride and arrogance now, but there comes a day when proud men fall!"
Proud Men Fall When Others See Through Their Pretense (Luke 14:7). Jesus saw through their pretense. They were playing games, pretending to be people of great importance and honor, deserving the highest seats at the feast. And so Jesus says, "If you really are a person of importance, you dont have to tell others, they will in time discover the fact." He watched how they chose the best seats. There was an unbelievable and rude scramble for prominence and recognition. It appears that it was the custom for guests to seat themselves, thus the mad rush for the seats at the head table.
In His parable, Jesus goes on to expose the false principle on which they acted. The lesson is "self-honor is no honor. The only honor worthy of the name is that given by another."
This is an overcompensation. A basic psychological drive is the desire to achieve status, the desire to belong and to have a secure sense of belonging. How the frustration of this desire in childhood has created an inordinate subconscious pursuit of it in adulthood has been endlessly documented. The scroungers, the shovers, and the pushers are overcompensating for frustrations experienced in the family, the gang, the grade school, or elsewhere.
This is in direct contradiction with the teachings of Christ (Luke 14:11). George Buttrick points out the fact that Christs teachings play havoc with many of our accepted concepts. The Beatitudes are open denials of accepted values. Is it blessed to be poor in spirit? Not when a man must cut out his own course in this world. Someone has said that the Beatitudes would not furnish in actual character any materials for a thrilling biography. The answer is obvious: the Beatitudes once became flesh and the resultant biography is the most thrilling known to men.
This misunderstands humility (Luke 14:1 ib). Humility is not cowardice. No person is weak who dares to look first on the splendor of God and then on his own littleness. Neither is humility self-depreciation nor lack of enthusiasm.
Jesus knew no proud person would ever believe that humility is the way to exaltation, and therefore that no proud man would ever take that way. He knows that humility does not gain honor among the high-minded, that on the contrary the world generally takes men at their own estimate. It gives to ambition the first place and to modesty the last. What Christ really does is to remind us that there is a society in which humility is held in honor and pride gets a down setting.
Proud Men Fall When Men Push Too Hard (Luke 14:8,9). Christ tells the story of a man who pushed too hard. He ultimately was humiliated before everyone. Why was he so humiliated? Why had he taken such a hard fall? Because he had pushed himself beyond the limits that even a gracious host was prepared to go. The formula Christ offers is a simple one -- "Dont push!" Christ understands human nature. He knows there are seats of honor and that they are to be filled. But he says, "Dont be pushy! Dont make a mad rush for the best seats." The general public will tolerate only so long a public official or special interest group throwing its weight around. The average citizen has his rights too, and when these rights are disregarded or circumvented by a few you can be sure a day of accounting will come when proud men fall!
We may not be so crude as those at the wedding dinner of which Christ spoke, but we can be sure that our Lord still marks how we chose out the chief seats in life.
And when we find ourselves scrambling for the choice seats and thus are numbered among the proud, I think the Lord has something to say to us.
If you listen closely you can hear Him even now, "For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."