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."
The Pharisees were continually trying to catch Jesus in some violation of the Mosaic law. On this occasion when he had been invited to dine in the house of a leading Pharisee, he knew this was the purpose of the invitation. They were so convinced of their own perfect knowledge and observance of the law, that they thought nobody else could possibly know it or observe it as perfectly as they did. Pride was their predominant vice and the chief cause of their opposition to Jesus. He was friendly with sinners, tax gatherers and the lower classes that they would not descend so low as even to salute such outcasts, much less befriend them or try to instruct them. Even among themselves, as on this occasion, pride showed its ugly head. Each one thought he was more important than any other and was striving to have the highest place at the table. In a very simple parable Jesus told them where their pride would lead them.
However, Jesus did his teaching in a gentle way. To take the sting out of his lesson, as it were, he relates the parable to a wedding party -- not to a dinner party. Do not pick the place of honour or you may have to vacate it when somebody more important than you arrives. Then as all the other places are occupied, to your chagrin and shame, you will have to take the only vacant seat, the lowest.
So not think yourself the most important among the guests. That is for the host to decide. If he judges you to be important he will give you a higher place, and your fellow guests will admire your lack of self-esteem and approve of your promotion.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" is the wise maxim that often fulfilled even in this life. It is in the next life, however, that it will always and unfailingly be fulfilled. It is in relation to the next life that our Lord quotes it here for the proud Pharisees.
He then has a special word of advice for the host, a leading Pharisee. He saw that the guests were the well-to-do, those who could and would repay him. It was not generosity that moved him but self-interest.
Jesus points out that if he were truly generous and meant to give a meal to the needy, it is not the wealthy but the poor that he should invite. He should be generous out of true love of neighbor and therefore love of God. The man who is generous and charitable to his neighbor in this life, out of love of God, will be rewarded by God when his day of judgment comes.
This parable was intended in the first instance for the Pharisee, but it was preserved in the inspired Gospel because it has a lesson for all men and women.
A proud Christian, that is, a proud follower of the humble Christ, is a contradiction in terms, Christ, the Son of God, lowered himself to our level when he took our human nature. He was born in a stable, reared in the obscure village of Nazareth; earned his meager meals as a country carpenter; died on a cross as a malefactor with two thieves as companions; was buried in a stranger’s grave. Could he have done more to induce us to listen to his counsel when he said: “Learn of me, for I am humble of heart?” Yet, there are Christians who are proud. Like the Pharisees of old, they thank God that they are not liked the rest of men.
There is a little demon of pride in everyone of us. There is a natural inclination in each one to esteem himself a little better in most ways, if not in all, than his neighbor. We must keep this demon in check and not let him grow in us. Any gifts of mind or body that we have are from God; and our duty is to use them properly and to thank God for the loan of them. If I use all the gifts which God gave me, to help my neighbor, the spiritually poor, the lame and blind, to heaven, instead of keeping myself aloof from them as thePharisee did, then my judgment will be easy, I shall be repaid in the resurrection of the just. Amen.