by Lois Tverberg
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “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 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 honored 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 14:7-11
In the passage above, Jesus notices how competitive the guests are being at a feast, where seating indicates ones’ social status. He charges his followers to take the lowest position until being asked to move up. Is he teaching us social etiquette? A cynic might say that Jesus wants us to adopt a mock-humility and self-abasement just so others will deem us worthy.
A rabbinic comment concurrent with Jesus’ command in Luke 14 offers a better perspective. It was said,
Who is worthy of honor? The one who treats other human beings with honor. As it I said: “For those who honor Me, I will honor, and those who scorn Me, I will scorn.” (1 Sam. 2:30) 1
This principle is called kavod habriyot —“honoring others”—and it means to respect others with a knowledge that all people are precious in God’s eyes. Simple examples of this respect range from not keeping others waiting or not taking all of something because you are first, to not being obnoxious in a group to get attention. When we view all as equally important in God’s eyes, respecting others in these ways is an obvious response. In bestowing this respect, you are humbling yourself.
When we examine Jesus’ command to take the lowest position we are convinced to look at it not as false humility but as kavod habriyot —honoring all others. A person with this attitude would arrive at a banquet and recognize the value and contributions of all the people around him. He would forget about himself, happily taking the lowest place, wanting all to receive some recognition for their presence there. In doing so he would be Christ-like in his humility, and in God’s eyes, worthy of the most honor.
1 Rabbi Ben Zoma, Pirke Avot 4:1
Photo: Ermitage, Sankt Petersburg