Today’s gospel, (Luke 14:1, 7-14) is subtle. It opens, 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. Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honour. 

At formal feasts in Jesus’ day people reclined on couches rather than sat at table. Being close to the host would have been a preferred position. The leader of the Pharisees was probably relatively wealthier than others in addition to having a position of prestige. Preferred spots, at the “head table”, would have been useful to guests who wanted to share their views with the host. Such seats would imply a degree of status and advantage, even if they were self-selected, because they would have the host’s ear. But the places surrounding the leader’s spot were not assigned so there was some maneuvering to choose the place of honour.

The gospel raises questions, such as: how did Jesus come to be at a dinner hosted by a leader of the Pharisees. As the opening verse noted, the Pharisees… were watching him closely.  Luke (11:53-54) had also written that the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say. It could be that the leader intended to set a trap for Jesus. Perhaps he was genuinely curious about Jesus, or he might have invited Jesus with a casual “join us” at the last minute, without much thought and maybe he was surprised that Jesus accepted. We don’t know how the invitation came about, but, generally, the Pharisees were out to ‘get’ Jesus.  

It is also mildly surprising that Jesus accepted. One doesn’t usually go to eat with hostile people. It could be that Jesus perceived an opening for conversation, for a change of heart, on the part of the Pharisees.  Perhaps Jesus saw the Pharisees as being among the people he came to save, despite their opposition to his message. 

As the host invited people to take their places, Jesus apparently stood aside and watched the maneuvering that probably involved a bit of jostling and personal slights.

Another consideration in the back of the guests’ minds may have been that Jesus was the guest whom no one wanted to be stuck beside. His presence would have likely created an air of tension or at a minimum been awkward. 


Then he told a parable ‘When you are invited to a wedding banquet, do not sit 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 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.’

An uncomfortable moment likely ensued as Jesus began to speak. He was NOT the host or guest of honour who would have naturally been expected to speak. Addressing the group would have been a role usually reserved for people with more socially esteemed roles. Many guests may have wondered why he was even there. Speaking to them about their behaviour was not something the Pharisees would have expected or welcomed. 

Still, Jesus did not call them “hypocrites”, as he had in last week’s gospel (Luke 13:15). His parable did not directly attack the Pharisees who were seeking the places of honour. Instead, it invited them to reflect, honestly, on their own status. The parable encouraged self-evaluation without directly accusing any specific person of having an inflated sense of their own importance. 

Moreover, the guests probably regarded Jesus with a variety  perspectives ranging from hostility or indifference, to curiosity and perhaps even a degree of respect for his teaching and works, so it may not have been appropriate for Jesus to tar them all with the same brush as hypocrites.


Scripture scholars refer to Jesus’ words… those who humble themselves will be exalted… as an example of “divine reversal” when God intervenes to turn around a social, political or economic situation and re-establish justice. Mary’s Magnificat in Luke’s first chapter is another example: he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.(Luke 1:51-53) The beatitudes, especially ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…are other examples. (Matt 5:3-5) 

The words… those who humble themselves will be exalted…change the tenor of what might have been advice on etiquette…do not seek the place of honour… to become a commentary on ultimate judgement. 

Jesus’ parable and his concluding remark did not accuse the Pharisees, directly, of arrogance or pride. Instead, he reminded them of God’s ways of working and urged them to evaluate their own lives by putting themselves into roles as characters in his parable. In doing so, he may have reminded them of the wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures, such as 


The Pharisees were not the only ones guilty of self-aggrandizement. Jesus’ own disciples suffered their share of it. In Matthew’s gospel the mother of James and John approached Jesus and ask him to ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ … Then Jesus said, whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ (Matt 20:20-28). 

In Mark’s gospel we read that Jesus asked his disciples, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ (Mark 9:33-35) 


This gospel concludes with an admonition against self-seeking under the guise of hospitality. Jesus said to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’


  • Do you imagine that any of the Pharisees sought to sit beside Jesus? Alternatively, how would they have reacted if Jesus took a place beside them? 
  • The parable to the Pharisees and the stories about the disciples invite each of us to self-examination to consider if and how we are guilty of seeking the places of honour. Arrogance and pride are often subtle. We may not have to say or do anything, but may harbour judgements about others that implicitly put ourselves in a loftier position. 
  • Do you read the final admonition of this gospel, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, as an instruction for the church, today?