Luke 14:1, 7-14
Recently, I chaired an event that featured a meal with a head table. Seated at the head table were a few dignitaries, the members of the organizing committee who had a part on the program and the guest speaker. Sitting at the head table could make one feel important, I guess. As the chair of the event, I would have been thrown for a loop if someone had come into the banquet hall and said, “I am a very important person, and I should be sitting up there at the head table.” It would have been tense for a conflict-averse person such as myself to have to tell someone to move, and it would have been embarrassing for the person to be told to move.
As unlikely as that scenario is, I wonder how many of us go to events such as this and wonder, “Shouldn’t I be at the head table?” “What makes them more important than me?” There is within us an insatiable desire for honor and greatness. Jesus never condemns that desire. Instead, He redirects it. The path to greatness is not through demand and bravado, but through humility and service. This runs directly counter to the attitude of the Pharisees who wanted to be seen and honored for their great piety.
The presenting issue here is a man with dropsy, a condition characterized by a general edema or swelling throughout the body. There is an object lesson in this affliction because dropsy also was characterized by an insatiable thirst. As the person with dropsy has an insatiable thirst, those who are unduly impressed with their own piety thirst for recognition and honor.
Aim Low in Humility
For Jesus, the path to greatness and being honored lies through humility and service. At first, it may seem as if Jesus was dispensing helpful, practical advice . It’s as if He were saying, “Look, if you try to make more of yourself than you ought, you’ll only wind up embarrassing yourself; and you don’t want that to happen. Instead, aim low and when they come and ask you to move to a more honored place, people will praise you for your humility.” There is good advice in that, but that’s not all that’s going on in this passage.
In verse 11, we see Jesus was not dispensing good advice, but is emphasizing a kingdom principle, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Pharisaic self-righteousness is all about exalting oneself and making sure everyone else is able to see how exalted and lifted up you are.
The greatness Jesus sees and honors is the greatness that moves quietly behind the scenes in ways no one notices—to aim low rather than aim high for yourself. A heart in tune with the heart of Jesus doesn’t seek the places of honor for itself. It is perfectly content to sit in the back of the room, the table where you have to look at the screen in order to get a good view of the speaker.
Aim Low in Serving
If your goal is to be honored, you’ll think “tit for tat” when having a dinner party. We often feel the obligation to entertain people in our homes because they’ve entertained us in their homes. Jesus said, “In My kingdom, the people who are really great and worthy of honor are those who are able to give without expecting anything in return. The test of character is what we do for those who can do nothing for us.
Henri Nouwen says, “Everything in me wants to move upward. Downward mobility with Jesus goes radically against my inclinations, against the advice of the world surrounding me, and against the culture of which I am a part.”
Allowing Jesus Christ to live in you and through you will reorient your priorities and your inclinations.