Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in 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 table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Luke 14:7-14)
Some interesting volumes have been published under the title of Table-Talk. That of Luther is well known, in which many striking sayings of the great reformer are preserved, which would otherwise have sunk into oblivion. To other works of a biographical character, the above designation might have been appropriately given, especially Boswell’s “Life of Johnson.” We need not say that its chief charm, the one feature in which its interest and value pre-eminently consists, is not the incidents it contains, but the conversational observations which are recorded. The table-talk, however, of Luther and Johnson, instructive and important as it was, is not for a moment to be compared with that to which we are permitted to listen on the present occasion. We have in this chapter, as well as in many other parts of the gospel narratives, the table-talk of Christ. And while in His more public addresses, “never man spake like this man,” the same can be said of Him with equal truth concerning all He uttered in those social gatherings to which, from various motives, He was occasionally invited.
The gospel inculcates good manners
There are no manners so refined and graceful as those taught in the gospel, because the gospel refers all to the heart. The habit of “pushing,” as we expressively call it, whether in affairs of smaller or greater importance, seems expressly discountenanced by the spirit of the gospel, and something very different is taught. We who have to bring up our children to make their way in life, should be careful how far we stimulate in them the pushing instinct. Do not encourage them to be loud and clamorous in asking, and to make the interest of “Number one” the point of only or first importance, and to thrust others aside. Doubtless we have much counter-opinion to meet on points like these, but let us hold to it that the manners which are pervaded by the evangelical spirit and temper are the true manners, both for the gentleman and the man of the world. It is said, “If we do not look after ourselves, no one else will.” Certainly, as our great poet says, “Self-love is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.” But this is not the point. It is a self-love indulged so far that it becomes indifferent to the rights of others; it is the restless desire to get out of our proper place, and seize that which belongs to another, which is condemned. The world is always glad of people who are bent upon doing their duty and who keep their place, and takes delight in putting down those who do not know their place, and would grasp at honours not their due. Christ’s lesson is one that comes home to us. It is not in the first instance a lofty and spiritual lesson, but a hint for our behaviour in the world of every day. And it is observable that He appeals to two very powerful passions—the sense of shame and the love of honour. If, in effect He says, you will persist in snatching at honours or advantages to which you are not entitled, you are on your way to be ridiculed, perhaps to be disgraced. If, on the other hand, you take a low place, lower, possibly, than that to which you are entitled, the chances are all in your favour. You may be promoted, and your promotion will bring honour upon you. An Oriental proverb says, “Sit in your place, and no man can make you rise.” In other words, at life’s feast sit down where all will accord you room, where none will dispute your right to be—a place that is lowly, therefore not envied; and there you may sit in peace and comfort. No man can disturb you in a place secured to you by the good will and respect of your neighbours. How much better this than to be contending for a position which the spite of others will not permit you to enjoy, and from which, sooner or later, you are likely to be removed. To how lofty a religious application is this lesson carried in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican! (E. Johnson, M. A.)