The Parable Of The Places Of Honour At A Wedding Feast


“One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? “But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.”  Luke 14:1-4

Jesus At A Pharisee’s House

Jesus was doing a bit of table talk as He ate in the house of a prominent Pharisee. They were having a Sabbath meal and from the very beginning, the Pharisees had been watching Jesus to see what He would do.

And so as usual Jesus astounded them by healing a man who was suffering from dropsy on the Sabbath. Dropsy is a symptom of a disease of the heart, liver, kidneys, or brain. It involves fluid retention and swelling in the body cavities or in the limbs.

We know, the customs then which were observed around the dinner table were quite different from today. The Greeks and the Romans ate their meals in the reclining position either on the floor or on low couches, drawn up against low tables. The tables were U-shaped which allowed the servants to serve food around the table more easily.

At the head of the table was placed the honoured guest and with the Jews, this was reserved for the rabbis. The other guests were seated around the table in descending order of importance. And on most occasions, the exact hour of the meal was never announced, so some guests came in earlier and others would come in later.

The Pharisees had this down to a tee, especially those who were in prominent positions. They would time their arrival so that they could make an unsuspicious entrance and in the presence of everyone else, they would receive the chief seats.

I think the scene in the build-up to the parable is very humorous. Jesus points out to the Pharisees and the experts in the Law the man with dropsy and tries to reason with them.

And so He asks them ‘is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? Jesus was a master at silencing people without saying too much. He silenced them and went ahead and healed the guy.

“Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” And they had nothing to say.” “When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable.” Luke 14:5-7

Jesus asked two questions and received no answers, He totally silenced the critics. I think this is an amusing scene because, at this particular feast, which Jesus attended, the Pharisees were scrutinising Jesus’ every move.

They were observing Him but at the same time, He was observing them. Jesus was watching them slyly manoeuvring around the table for the place of honour.

And it was after observing them, that he told them a parable. Jesus is about to rebuke the Pharisees and the experts in the Law because of their bad table manners. But He is also going to point out to them that they’re in a seriously unsafe spiritual condition.

Now it’s not a parable, which tells a story, but it’s a parable in the sense that it’s to be interpreted figuratively. It’s a parable in the true sense of the word because it’s a comparison that teaches on right relationships in the kingdom of God.

The Parable Of Places Of Honour At A Wedding Feast

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:8-11

Jesus is teaching them about humility, real humility.

They were almost playing musical chairs or looking for the best seat in the house. And Jesus uses the phrase ‘who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,’ over and over again in the New Testament.

For example in Matthew 23 when Jesus is speaking to the crowds and His disciples about the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees who were displaying false humility.

He tells them at the end of Matthew 23:3 “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” And then down in Matthew 23:12, He says to them, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Again in Luke 18:9-13 when Jesus is teaching about self-righteousness and the two men who went up to the temple to pray. One guy said, “Look at me, look at all the good things I do.” And the tax collector said, “God have mercy on me a sinner.” And so Jesus goes on to say in Luke 18:14 “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

And that teaching didn’t just stop when Jesus went back to heaven, this truth was carried on and taught to the early church. Paul taught it to the Philippian church in Philippians 2:3-4. James taught it to the church that was scattered in James 4:10. Peter taught it to the young men in the church in 1 Peter 5:5-6.

And this law stills stands true today as it did when Jesus first uttered those words. It stands against everything that the world teaches about becoming great. Jesus says if you want to go up in the His kingdom then you need to learn how to go down.

The principle of humility is obvious and clear but it isn’t always easy to find the path, which leads to true humility. How do we begin on that path? Where is the starting point of true humility?

Well, the place to begin is with yourself. But not so much in public places where many people can see how humble we are but away from the rush of things.

In quiet places of uninterrupted solitude, where a person needs to submit to the rigour of self-evaluation. Because when you think about it, there are many things that should keep us humble. For example, our physical and bodily weaknesses should keep us humble, Psalm 103:13-16.

A person can be an architect or an astronomer, they can be a soldier or a politician but no person is as mighty as they would like to be. There are paths that people can’t go, there are cliffs and mountains that they can’t scale, and there are galaxies they can’t subdue.

And because mankind lives their days in the midst of suffering and tears, we don’t know how to ward off pain, we’re unable to defend ourselves against certain diseases.

We can’t disguise the inevitable marks of old age, even though some try with plastic surgery. We can’t bride away death and when you think about it, death alone is sufficient enough to keep mankind humble.

And you know when you think about our bodies they can so quickly get out of balance. Our body systems can be easily disturbed and so quickly break down and sometimes without any notice. But all these things show us how insecure life really is. And when we dare to remember these things, selfish pride will soon vanish away.

Another thing, which should keep us humble, is our mental limitations.

For centuries mankind has been accumulating facts and perfecting methods. And if you gathered all the knowledge mankind has together and placed it into a storehouse, it would still be infinitely smaller compared to all the things mankind doesn’t know yet, Job 36:26-29.

Advancements in technology and scientific breakthroughs come painfully slow. And no one is more aware of this than the scholar, a real scholar in whatever field they specialise in is continually shamed by their ignorance. Think about it! A man may be able to speak ten different languages but he may not know how to change a fuse in a plug.

A woman may be an international authority on the literacy classics but she may not be able to drive a car. An expert on machines, computers and technology may not be able to spell a simple three-syllable word correctly.

The simple truth is that life has grown to such proportions that no one is able to be a master of all the arts, no one is able to master all of the sciences. So the littleness of our knowledge ought to be enough to keep us humble.

Another example of what should keep us humble is our weaknesses and failures.

Nowhere are our defects more obvious to us than in our moral conduct. Christians ought to be aware of their sin, the purest and noblest of Christians should always be conscious of their sin.

The apostle Paul was very much aware of his sin, Romans 7:21-24. In fact, he was so aware of his sin that every time he looked at someone else, he didn’t condemn them, he looked at himself, 1 Timothy 1:15.

An honest examination of ourselves will bring us face to face with ourselves. And when we see ourselves clearly we will come away from the mirror seeing just how small we really are. And if you struggle to see yourself clearly then try praying this Psalm 139:23-24.

How many of us would be willing right now to face God in Judgement on the terms of our own natural goodness and on the basis of the works, which we have done in His name?

The grand total of all our goodness and all our generosity and all our good deeds are shamefully small. This again above all things should make us conscious of our necessity for humility. When a person meets Jesus Christ and places his life next to Jesus’ life the marked difference brings guilt and grief.

On that last night, a quarrel broke out among Jesus’ disciples, Luke 22:24-27. We don’t know how their argument started but since Jesus gathered His group to eat the Passover, which was the most important Jewish observation, it’s quite likely that the strife was over the seating arrangements.

And what a sad picture this is, in Jesus’ last hours of His life, His own disciples, just like the Pharisees before, were scrambling over the seats of distinction.

And so Jesus put an end to the dispute by asking them in Luke 22:27 “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table?”

And according to John 13:ff Jesus washed their feet. And what did they do? They sat there dumbfounded, they sat there utterly disgraced, not believing that they could act so selfishly.

The people in Jesus’ day didn’t believe that a man who pushes himself would be lower. The people in Jesus’ day didn’t believe that a man who lowers himself would in the end be victorious.

If God was willing to come down to earth in the form of Jesus Christ and wash people’s feet then surely we should too, Mark 10:45.

Jesus served, His disciples served, Acts 16:17, the early church served, then we should be serving too and Christian you must serve, Matthew 25:21 / Romans 12:6-7.