So, you have been invited to an awards ceremony. You are pretty convinced that you have been invited because of something you have done; the book you authored; the song you wrote; the medical discovery you made. You are surrounded by your peers. People who have also accomplished great things. They make a speech that you really don’t hear as you bask in your glory; as you envision that moment you accept the award; as you go over your acceptance speech. The moment comes near. They announce that this year’s winner of the coveted “whatever” award is . . . And you stand before the name is announced. You beam with pride. But something is horribly wrong. The name they uttered was, alas, not yours. So, there you are standing and filled with embarrassment. Well, that could have gone better.
Luke 14:7-11 is not a parable even though Luke calls it a parable. It is more than a pithy saying. Many a Greek writer mentions the problem with seeking honor. Theophrastus speaks of people who thrust themselves into places of honor as “seekers of petty distinction.” Jesus is doing something else here. The word parable tips us off that he is speaking about kingdom stuff. The scene is a meal to which several had been invited. Jesus notices the way the invited guests sought out places of honor. There may be an underlying message about being content that you had been invited. You know instead of acting as if having been invited is nothing unless you can sit in a place of importance. The word invited is used six times in Jesus’ message. There is an emphasis here. You had been invited. I mean, wow! You have been invited. Oh, and the one who invited has the right to decide who sits where.
So, when you are invited to a wedding banquet do not recline at the first place; kicking back with the smug assurance that this is where you belong. The one who invited you may have someone else in mind to sit there. And how embarrassing would that be? Most people have taken their seats. Everyone sees the host approach and ask you to sit elsewhere. The only seats left are the last or least important seats. And then comes the walk of shame as you rise and go to find a seat.
Instead of that, when you come to the banquet recline yourself at the last place. There may be a hint of being content to just be at the feast. You don’t need anything else here. You are there. You! So, happily plump yourself down with other just happy to be there people. And then when the inviter sees you, he will call you “friend” and tell you to move up to a superior seat. Imagine all of your fellow diners as they see you rise up and move up. There may be a different kind of embarrassment here. A good embarrassment; an “awe shucks” embarrassment. Now, you are not only invited, you have also received glory. Not because you expected or demanded or positioned yourself to receive it, but because you positioned yourself not to receive it. I know. Paradox. But there you go. That is the kingdom of God.
Then we have another wandering word from Jesus. But it is not just from Jesus. It breathes throughout the Bible. The one who lifts himself up will be lowered. The one who lowers himself will be lifted. This message is found in Proverbs 25:6-7, which Jesus most likely alludes to. You can also find it in 2 Samuel 22:28. It is found in the beatitudes with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” This is more than a wise statement about social graces. This is kingdom essence. If you are in the kingdom, you know. You are just excited to be there. God didn’t invite you because it would give his kingdom a certain panache that would be otherwise lacking.
You have been invited! And this is no ordinary invitation even though some treat it as such. This is an invitation from the king of kings; the creator of all things. He wants you in his kingdom. He has paid the price for your admission. Don’t saunter in and plop down in the important places. Don’t lift yourself up to great heights bragging about how you are best chums with God. Because if you do, you will be missing the glory of the kingdom. Slink in as if you are not sure the king meant you. Sit down inconspicuously in an out of the way corner somewhere. Be amazed you are there at all. And then when the king comes up to you and says, “My friend, I wish you to sit up at my table,” be overwhelmed with an embarrassment that still cannot believe he means you; thinking that you are the last person who should be sitting at the king’s table. But then you notice that everyone in the kingdom is sitting at the king’s table. And it hits you; everyone at the table had made themselves low. No smug assurance here. Only shocked joy. Peace.