Luke 14 reflects the increasing opposition toward Jesus on his way to the cross. Notably, he has already been in conflict over the meaning of the Sabbath and has more than once offended their religious rules and systems. Yeah Jesus!
Jesus, on this occasion, is invited to the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. There he notices a man suffering from a disease. Jesus uses the condition of the man to pose a question and proves a point regarding their mixed up values. Human need always takes precedence over religious rule-keeping.
But there is a deeper truth Luke wants us to learn about; it is the issue of human pride. The Pharisees’ real problem is pride. Luke thus includes the parable which is the focus of our reading today.
Loving Me, Myself and I
I recently read about a man who had front row tickets behind home plate at the World Series, when another guy came down and asked if anyone was sitting in the seat next to him. “Nope”, he replied, “That seat is empty.”
“Whoah! That’s crazy!”, said the guy. “Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the World Series, the biggest day in all of baseball, and not even bother to show up?”
Sadly, the man says, “Well… the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come here with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first World Series we’ve missed since we got married in 1964.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. What a shame. But couldn’t you find someone else – a friend or relative or even a neighbor to take the seat?”
“Nah,” the man replies as he shakes his head, “They’re all at the funeral.”
Like the man who would never miss sitting at the World Series, the Pharisees apparently never missed the opportunity to sit in the best seats in the house.
Who Invited THAT Guy?
The man with the disease was not sitting at the back of the room or in a corner. No, he was sitting right in front so Jesus could see him. I wonder who invited him? I mean, he does have a disease, right? There may be others there that day that asked that same question. He certainly would not normally have been on the guest list of the “in-crowd.” My guess is that these Pharisees had invited this man only to make a point about Jesus potentially healing such a man on a Sabbath Day (like he had done before) and to ultimately set a trap for Jesus. We are told by Luke that “they were watching him carefully” (14.2). The Pharisees didn’t love the man; they were using the man for their own ends.
With a general teaching for all, Jesus strongly and pointedly corrects those in the room who tended to love the limelight due to their pride and who failed to love those in the same room. You can bet they knew who they were. Jesus had already made this point about them earlier, and they were still smarting from it (cf. Luke 11.43); so there is a problem at heart that shows up repeatedly in their outward behavior (see also, Matthew 23.6, Mark 12.38, Luke 20.46). And Jesus is not about to ignore it.
It’s important, though, to understand what Jesus is correcting here. John Maxwell has rightly noted, “There are two kinds of pride, both good and bad. ‘Good pride’ represents our dignity and self-respect. ‘Bad pride’ is the deadly sin of superiority that reeks of conceit and arrogance.”
Choose Your Chair
Can you imagine doing what Jesus did? In a genuine sense, he turns the tables on the Pharisees and anyone else who intently focuses on themselves. When I read this account, I am convicted. Are you? I fear that all too often, I do a great job “looking out for number one.” Jesus reminds us all (“…a parable to those invited”) that pride will always push us to be first, to have the best, to be noticed, and to grab the benefits and all the while not even see it. This heart issue can be so subtle; we can often miss it. Ever heard of ‘blind pride’?
Jesus concludes the lesson with a principle.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14.11).
God opposes my efforts to ‘get to the top’ at the expense of others. The opposite is also true – He honors my decision to humble myself. God will push us down in our pride but will lift us up by our going low. Mark Twain once said, “Human pride is not worthwhile; there is always something lying in wait to take the wind out of it” (Mark Twain, Following the Equator). Whatever is ‘lying in wait’ is put there by God to make us see the condition of our own heart and make us ask, “Where will I sit today?”