The Parable of the Chief Seats

Mike Johnson

“When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”  (Luke 14:8-11)

Jesus taught on many subjects during the time He lived on the earth.  One subject which He spoke on a great deal was humility.  The proud and arrogant Pharisees, who we read about in the Bible, needed teaching on humility, and it is clearly a subject which needs to be taught today.  One place where Jesus spoke on this subject is Luke 14:8-11 where the parable of the Chief Seats is recorded.

 The Occasion

In Luke 14:1, we are told that Jesus had come to the house of one of the chief Pharisees on the Sabbath day to eat.  The same verse says they watched Him while He was there.  It seems they were trying to find some fault with Him so they could criticize Him and hurt Him in the eyes of the people.  We read further that there was a man present with dropsy.  Jesus asked the lawyers and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?”  He then healed the man and defended His actions.

Verse seven says, “. . .  He put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when He marked how they chose the chief rooms  . . . .”  To begin with, Jesus does refer to Luke 14:8-11 as a parable.  It is obviously different (in form) from some of the other parables, but Jesus does refer to it as a parable.  Also, we see that the parable came about when Jesus noticed how the people at the feast “chose out the chief rooms.”  The NASB renders it, “When He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the tables . . . . ”  Neil R Lightfoot, in his book “Lessons From the Parables,” points out some very interesting facts about the ancient practices.  He said:

It is well-known that the ancients of Greek and Roman times ate their meals in reclining positions on low couches drawn up against low tables.  Ordinarily the tables were U-shaped, which allowed the servants to serve food about the table with ease.  At the head of the table was placed the honored guests  . . . On his right and left were placed the next most honored guests, and the others were seated around the table in descending order of importance. (Page 95)

It was further pointed out that frequently the exact time of the meal was not announced.  Thus, the Pharisees would arrive at various times and would try and time their arrival so that they could make a grand entrance and receive the chief seats.

The Parable

Jesus had watched the pompous people vie for position at the feast.  Because of their pride and arrogance, they would thrust themselves to the forefront by seeking to occupy the chief seats. Seeing this, Jesus instructed them regarding how to properly act.  He said that when they were invited to a wedding feast they were not to just immediately sit down at the most honored position.  By following this course of action, they might be embarrassed as the host could ask them to move and go to the lowest place when a more honorable guest arrived.  The proper action would be for the individual invited to the feast to take the lowest seat.  If the host chose to do so, he could ask him to move to a higher position.  When the person was asked to advance, he would be looked at favorable by those present.  So it would be better to start low and be asked to go higher than it would be to start high and be asked to go lower.

Application

Jesus presented His main point in verse 11 when he said, “For whosoever exalteth  himself shall be abased (humbled, NASB); and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Today, those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.  This is seen a great deal today.  People may be heard praising a fellow Christian for having humility.  Even many people of the world recognize the value of humility and its desirability over pride and arrogance.  Another sense, perhaps the main sense Jesus had in mind, would be from a spiritual standpoint.  Those who are humble here on earth are viewed in a favorable way by God and ultimately will be exalted by Him.  The faithful child of God, who would of course possess humility, will be saved eternally and thus be exalted by God.

The Bible warns us that we must be humble.  Ephesians 4:2 says we are to walk with all lowliness and meekness.  I Peter 5:5 says, “. . . be clothed with humility for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”  In Matthew 18:3, Jesus taught where true greatness is as He said, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus frequently taught the necessity of humility.  He was humble himself, and He expects us to follow His steps.