The Low Seat
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I love Robert Capon’s reference to Luke 14 as containing the Party Parables of Jesus. Luke reports Jesus at a dinner engagement instructing His Pharisee host and guests about the kind of party etiquette that reflects feasting in the Kingdom of God.
As a prelude to telling the parable of the Great Banquet, He advised them on how to attend and then how to throw a party (Luke 14:7–14). When you are invited to a banquet, don’t scramble for a high place of honor, lest the host make you eat humble pie by telling you the seat is reserved for some other dude worthier than you. Rather, advises Jesus, find the lowest seat in the hall, so that the host, seeing your humility, moves you up the pecking order to a place of honor (Luke 14:8–11).
Following this advice, He tells the parable of the Great Banquet where we learn that feasting in the Kingdom of God will involve a multitude of unsavory people, with lots of empty chairs and leftovers. But not so fast! Let’s go back to our Lord’s instruction to take the lowest seat when attending a banquet. What should we make of this advice when it comes to imagining our attendance at the Great Feast in the fullness of the Kingdom? …
If the lowest seat bore the name tag: Chief of Sinners, would you take it? If so, would you expect that the Apostle Paul might engage you in an argument over the rightful person for that seat? (1 Timothy 1:15). … If there were such a seat in that Great Hall on the low end with a name tag, Chief of Sinners, would you imagine … a multitude of would-be Chief of Sinners arguing over to whom the seat belongs?
Perhaps the conundrum can be solved if we determine how many seats are in the Great Hall. Here is my take: There are only two seats in the Great Hall, and both are well-worn. There is the seat of humiliation and the seat of exaltation, and both have already been occupied by our Lord. The Apostle Paul instructs:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:5–9).
As with the Lord, so it will be with all who want to party with Him. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).—Dr. Steven Hein1
The deeper message
Often when humility comes up, as say, in St. Luke 14:7–11, it appears as mere political gesture. We’d call it virtue signaling today.
Jesus attends a Shabbat. This is the Friday night supper that marks the beginning of Sabbath observances. There is prayer, blessed bread and wine, and thanksgiving to Him “who nourishes the whole world in goodness, with grace, kindness, and compassion.”
At this Shabbat the guests make a scramble for the seats of honor. Jesus tells them a parable (at least Luke calls it a parable): Don’t take the best seat, take a low seat instead and wait to be called up to a higher seat, says Jesus. Take a high seat first and you will be humiliated when the host asks you to leave it and give way to someone else.
Oops. Awkward, huh? This advice, then: To avoid the embarrassment by being asked to take a lower seat, start with a lowest seat first. Spying lowly you, way down there so beneath your station, your host may instead call you up higher (and send someone else lower, to your deserved satisfaction). And clever you, “you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.” Hooray…
But if this is a parable—a story with a hidden false bottom—then we need to look further, dig deeper. The key I think is the nature of the Shabbat dinner. After Jesus’ proverbial lecture on humility as political gesture … Jesus explains to his host: Next time, at the next Shabbat, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” must be your honored guests.
There’s an interesting guest list. These are the people (and their descendants) expressly forbidden by Levitical law (Leviticus 21:17–23) from making priestly temple offerings to the Lord. Moreover, in their poverty and in the misery of their physical incapacities, they cannot repay their host and have no hope of ever doing so. That seems to be something of the point; in fact, the whole point for inviting them.
The parable of who is called up higher is indeed deeply political, for Christ shatters the distinctions of class and creates the economy of salvation and puts us all in our place as beggars before the Lord.
The invitation to the table of Jesus is a call to a higher humility, for we know we cannot repay our host. We have not the means. We each find ourselves among “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind,” hungry supplicants with empty hands extended so the Lord may fill them.
The weakness of our faith, seeing without clarity, all of us stumbling lame along the straight and narrow, struggling to stay within the lines—there is no reason for us to be called up higher. Yet for his own compassion he chooses to call us up to his Father’s love.—Russell E. Saltzman2
Humility toward others
In Matthew 11:29, Jesus said that if we would learn of Him, we must be lowly of heart. We were to learn of Him because He was lowly in heart, and then we would find rest for our souls.
Humility is a place of such rest and contentment. Everything that Christ ever did, His words, His walk, were always an illustration of humility, and when He chose His disciples, He chose humble men. Even His mother said, “The Lord hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden” (Luke 1:48). It wasn’t high position or high-mindedness that made her fit to be the mother of God’s Son, but lowliness and purity.
In the Gospel Jesus prayed thus: “I thank thee, O Father, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11:25)—that is, to the humble. Christ is here setting forth the statement that only the humble can receive the deepest truths of God.
Bunyan once said: “It’s hard to get down in the valley of humiliation, for the descent is rugged and rough and steep, but it’s surely a fruitful valley when you get down there.” But remember, humility doesn’t consist in hating oneself, but in thinking of others and revealing to them the humility of Jesus through your life. “In honor preferring one another, servants one of another, each counting others better than himself, subjecting yourselves one to another” (Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 5:5).
When the disciples disputed in Luke chapter 9 as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom, Jesus answered, “He that is the least among you, the same shall be great” (Luke 9:46–48). When the sons of Zebedee asked Jesus if they could sit on the right hand and the left hand—the highest places in heaven—He told them that was not His to give. But He added, “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of man came to serve” (Matthew 20:27–28).
In Luke 18:14, we find this statement: “Everyone that exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.” God help us to remember that the test of the daily Christian walk is love and humility.
Humility toward others is proof of humility toward God, for the spirit of our lives manifests itself in our bearing toward others in sweet humility. Humility before God is nothing if not proved in humility before men, and in our personal life especially. “Through love be servants one of another” and “therefore walk with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:2).
Humility is one of the hardest of lessons to learn, and it has to be learned through fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, humbling yourself in His presence, as this verse said, meek and lowly of heart, and learning of Him. “Take his yoke upon you and learn of him, and ye shall find rest” (Matthew 11:29).
When you hear of all the confusion, the doubts and fear in the hearts of men today, remember that He’s promised you rest for your soul, if you take His yoke and learn of Him.—Virginia Brandt Berg
Published on Anchor February 2023. Read by John Laurence.