‘Friend, go up higher.’
Pride has become something of a virtue in our culture. To be proud of one’s achievements is considered to be a sign of success. ‘After all,’ it is said, ‘if you have got it, then you might as well flaunt it.’ And yet there is something very ugly about the man or woman who is absorbed in their own sense of self-importance. What is true now was also true in Jesus’ day – human nature hasn’t changed in 2,000 years!
One Sabbath Jesus ate with other guests at a Pharisee’s house. The host was no ordinary Pharisee. He was a ruler among the Pharisees, the elite of the elite. And as people sat down to eat at this important man’s table Jesus noticed the ugly scramble to sit in the positions of honour.
We can imagine the scene as people shuffled awkwardly, squeezing themselves past each other to get a hand or a foot in the place they considered they deserved. Having chosen the best places available, all reclined ready for the meal. Instead, what they got was a parable based on their own behaviour. We read about it in Luke 14:7–10,
‘So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honourable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.’
Jesus told the parable, not merely in a bid to improve distasteful table etiquette, but to expose the sin of pride and shine a light on God’s dealings with sinful human beings like us. We know this from what Jesus said after his little story, ‘For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (v.11)
God’s way up has always been down. Humbled sinners who cry out for mercy get God’s forgiveness and acceptance, not religious hypocrites who pray to be seen. It is not the proud person who is found at the foot of the cross. It is the helpless sinner who knows it! The problem for us is our inherent tendency to scramble to put ourselves high, even if that is by giving the appearance of being low.
But this is a foolish way to live. Because really being low, really recognising our sinfulness before a holy God, is far better than acting as if we were. Because when get down low, then we are ready to hear his gracious words, ‘Friend, go up higher.’