The rising note of opposition does not prevent Jesus from instructing regarding discipleship. Yet here too the Pharisees provide a negative, contrasting example. Pride and status are social issues in any culture, and the ancient Jewish culture was no exception. Status brings power, and power often begets pride. Jesus regards this equation as destructive to spiritual health. Jesus' disciples are marked by humility. Both how we operate socially and whom we invite to dinner indicate the type of person we are. Humility means ignoring rank or class. Friends can be made anywhere. The lesson is a hard one, as some of the New Testament epistles show (1 Cor 11:17-22; Phil 2:1-11; Jas 2:1-5; 4:6; 5:1-6). But Jesus' picture parable (v. 7) shows that he regards this attitude as fundamental to discipleship.
Jesus' teaching, though it addresses a discipleship issue, is really a rebuke to many at the dinner table. Luke notes that Jesus speaks because he has noted how the guests picked the places of honor. At a big ancient meal, these seats would probably have been those closest to the host. Couches for a meal were usually set in a U, with two to four guests reclining on each couch. The host would sit at the base of the U, with the most honored guests on his left and right. Power and prestige resided closest to "the chair." Seating would have followed the washing of hands for cleansing (Mk 7:3; m. Berakot 6—8, especially 8:2).
Jesus notes that there is danger in pursuing seats of honor. He tells the story of a wedding where someone quickly grabs the high seat of honor. But then a person more distinguished walks in, and the host asks the one holding the seat of honor to move. So humiliated, the presumptuous one must head to the last seat. The description of the move down the social ladder is drawn out in Greek to underline the person's shame (you begin . . . to head for the last seat; NIV you will have to take the least important place). It is as if every step hurts.
How much different it is if the guest takes the last seat at the beginning. Then the host will tell that humble one to move up to a higher seat, honoring him before everyone. Jesus uses the term "glory" (doxa) to characterize the honor that results. In fact, a principle is in view here: For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. This theme of eschatological reversal has Old Testament and Jewish roots (Ezek 17:24; Sirach 3:19-23). It is also a significant Lukan theme (1:52-53; 6:21, 25; 10:15; 18:14).
Jesus' point is not that we should connive to receive greater honor. Rather, he is saying that honor is not to be seized; it is awarded. Jesus is not against giving honor to one who deserves it, but he is against the use of power and prestige for self-aggrandizement. God honors the humble, and the highway of humility leads to the gate of heaven. Those who are truly humble persons recognize their desperate need for God, not any right to blessing.
Jesus expands the picture of humility by exhorting his audience to invite to their dinner table the needy and those who cannot repay such kindness. Hospitality should be open to all. So whether at the early meal (ariston) or the main evening meal (deipnon), hospitality should be shown not to the rich and famous nor to family members, but to those who cannot repay the favor. In ancient culture, the one who hosted a festive meal would be placed on the invitation list for future meals at the guests' homes. Jesus argues that such "payback" hospitality has no merit. The best hospitality is given, not merely exchanged in a kind of unspoken social contract. If God reaches out to all, then those who seek to honor him should reach out also. So the poor, crippled, the lame, the blind should be invited. (This list looks much like the list of Luke 7:22, with a few differences; it is repeated in Luke 14:21.) The poor and the powerless should be welcome. For such hospitality and humility, God promises blessing at the resurrection of the dead. Jesus allows no class mentality.
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