When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, 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 person 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 honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Jesus tells this parable as a gentle warning to the Pharisees to abandon their selfishness and pride.
The event took place at the house of a prominent Pharisee, perhaps even one of the members of the ruling Sanhedrin, and Jesus “noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table.” Jesus had just miraculously healed a man suffering from dropsy or edema, but the guests were more concerned about who got to sit closest to the host.
In that culture, the host would sit at the head of a U-shaped table, and the guests would sit on dining couches in order of importance from the greatest to the least. The Pharisees would take turns inviting each other to their houses, sort of a tit-for-tat type of arrangement, and everything was done to be seen and to be highly esteemed among the people (Matthew 23:5-6).
The First Half of the Parable
The first half of Jesus’ parable should have sounded familiar to the audience of Old Testament experts. It should have brought to mind this proverb: “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.” (Proverbs 25:6-7) At face value, this appears to be nothing more than a bit of useful advice on how to avoid awkward social situations.
However, the second half of the parable, which was addressed directly to the host, contains the key phrase “at the resurrection of the righteous.” Jesus was being very revealing about the spiritual truth hidden in this parable, and therefore very merciful to the Pharisees. With that in mind, we can see the meaning of the first half of the parable: The proud of heart must humble themselves before God will lift them up out of their sinful state and seat them with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). This theme is common throughout the Bible:
- “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, and Proverbs 3:34)
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
- “You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.” (Psalm 18:27)
- “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” (Psalm 75:6-7)
- “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
- “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor.” (Proverbs 29:23)
Pride is a very common, yet very serious and often overlooked sin. Even the apostles fell victim to the temptation to self-exalt (Mark 9:33-35, Mark 10:35-37, and Luke 22:24). In the same way, Christians today may feel tempted to take credit when they lead someone to Christ, forgetting that it is God alone who saves. Christians may even believe they’re immune to temptation and start down the road toward adultery without even realizing it. Pride not only keeps unbelievers from accepting the simplicity of the Gospel, but it can also lead Christians to stop relying on God to “lead us not into temptation.” (Matthew 6:13)
The Second Half of the Parable
Since the host wasn’t busy tripping over people in an effort to elevate himself to the seat of honor, he might have ignored the first half of the parable. However, Jesus knew that the host wasn’t inviting the guests over to be generous⸺he expected to be repaid with a similar invitation. Therefore, Jesus addressed the second half of the parable directly to the host to expose his selfishness.
Jesus wasn’t saying that we should never invite our friends, family, and neighbors to a meal. Instead He was using hyperbole to make the point that we shouldn’t give with a thought for what we can get in return, but out of the goodness of our heart. As the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
A gift with strings attached is no gift at all. Since we as Christians recognize that our salvation is a gift that we can never repay, we should be eager to share that same selfless love of Christ with others. As Jesus said to the apostles, “You received without paying; give without pay.” (Matthew 10:8 ESV) When we give, we don’t give to be seen or to be repaid (Matthew 6:1-4). Instead, we give anonymously so that God gets all the glory. That is why Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)