Humble Service is Required
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, 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 honored 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."
Jesus and his disciples practiced hospitality. He was constantly concerned with the needs of others, healing the sick and feeding the poor and needy. The ones who thought they were deeply religious often ignored those who needed help and thought very highly of themselves.
The religious leaders tried to assume positions of power within society. When invited to events, such as weddings, they simply took the positions of honor, assuming they were meant for them. Jesus was trying to give them a glimpse of the new kingdom. What they didn't realize was that in the kingdom of God, he was the man with authority. In the world of the religious leaders they would place themselves in the best positions and Jesus and his disciples would humbly go about their business and take the places of lowest regard. But in the kingdom things would be set right. Those who thought themselves to be religious would be removed from their high positions and be replaced by the humble Messiah and his disciples.
Those who thought of themselves as highly religious and worthy of power and honor would be disgraced for they did not understand the kingdom.
The application of this parable seems pretty straightforward, we just have to substitute certain players. The warning here is for those who may have spent their entire lives in the church. It's far too easy for church to become a part of our own culture. What can happen is that we become so engaged in the culture of church and society that we miss out on the reality of the kingdom.
There have been times throughout history that the church has had an honored position within the political sphere of the culture. Once Christianity became acceptable within the Roman Empire in the early fourth century, things began to change. At first Christianity was simply tolerated as another religion, but within a few decades Christianity had tasted the power of the Empire and gradually things began to change. By the end of the century Christianity was not only tolerated, but was becoming the preferred religion. Those who had been persecuted for their faith seemed to have forgotten their pains and readily took upon themselves the role of persecutor. Position within the Empire and proximity to the Emperor became important for church. Memories of the early centuries and how the Holy Spirit had moved the Christians to imitate Christ faded, and now, intoxicated with political power they threw in their lot with the Empire.
The hopes of those fourth century Christians was that the Empire might serve as a vehicle for the spread of the Gospel. Indeed, it did seem to work, and yet, there was a major cultural shift within the church as a result. Corruption and accommodation ensued. Whenever we align ourselves with human power and authority we set ourselves up for a great fall.
If we humbly follow after the Messiah we will not be tempted by the power of the world. We will live into kingdom power, that which comes from the Holy Spirit, and reveals the radical hospitality of God. We are welcomed into the great banquet feast of the kingdom where the first will be last and the last first.
Resist the temptation to be intoxicated by the powers of this world for they are nothing in light of the kingdom. Humbly follow the Messiah into the places of greatest need. Allow others to take their positions of power in this world while we live in the already of the kingdom.
Lord, help to seek you and your kingdom today. Amen.