In the passage above, Jesus notices how competitive the guests are being at a feast, where seating indicates ones' social status. He tells his followers to take the lowest position until being asked to move up. A cynical person could conclude that Jesus is saying that we should adopt a kind of mock-humility and self-abasement just so that others will tell us how worthy we are.
A rabbinic comment of around the time of Jesus might give us a better perspective. It was said,
This principle is called kavod habriyot - meaning "honoring others" and means to respect other people knowing that we are all precious in God's eyes. Examples are simple things like not keeping others waiting, or not taking all of something because you are first, or not being obnoxious in a group to get attention. The reason to avoid doing these things is simply out of respect for people, because they are just important in God's eyes as you are. By doing so, you are humbling yourself.
Looking back on Jesus' words about taking the lowest position, perhaps a better way of looking at it is not so much as false humility as kavod habriyot - honoring all others. A person who has this attitude would arrive at a banquet seeing the specialness and contributions of all the people around him. He would forget about himself, happily taking the lowest place, wanting all to feel some recognition for their presence there. In doing so he would be Christ-like in his humility, and in God's eyes, worthy of most honor of all.
©2006 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
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