Reading: Luke 14.1, 7-11
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Just as the Pharisees watched Jesus when he dined with them, so Jesus was observing the behaviour of his fellow diners. There was, however, a difference between what the Pharisees were looking for and what Jesus actually saw. The Pharisees hoped to observe Jesus committing some faux pas that would prove his unworthiness and contempt for Jewish religious rules. Jesus was simply seeing people as they are. He was observing their behaviour, which demonstrated their disregard, even contempt, for God.
I am often told by those I am speaking to just how much they enjoy ‘people watching’. Writers and journalists often say the same. So many people are fascinated by observing the minutiae of the behaviour of other people. But, I often wonder when I am told of someone’s love of this pastime: what is it that you are actually looking for?
Sadly, the honest answer to that question would so often be a hope that someone else ‘might get it wrong’; that they might embarrass themselves by sitting at the place of honour and then having to move to make way for someone else.
Most human beings demonstrate an alarming propensity for awarding themselves a dignity to which they are not entitled. Such a sense of importance may be rooted in wealth or upbringing, or it may stem from a strong and distorted competitive streak. Whatever its origins, such behaviour can only be described as the sin of pride. Pride, the sin which erects barriers between us and God because it involves putting ourselves in the seat of honour, the place that really belongs to God alone.
When Jesus came to earth he did not only bring a message of love. Jesus also brought a message of humility and service. That is the message that, alongside love, should be at the heart of all we say and think and do.
So, where are you sitting right now? Is it at the head of the table, or is it on the floor, alongside Jesus, as he washes the feet of those who call him Master?