A Country Wedding,
Painted by Jan Steen (1626–1679),
Painted circa circa 1662-66,
Oil on canvas
© Sotheby’s London / Private collection
At a wedding feast, do not take a seat of honour
Now on a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited, and the person who invited you both may come and say, “Give up your place to this man.” And then, to your embarrassment, you would have to go and take the lowest place. No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’
Reflection on the painting
In order to connect with our core being, Jesus reflects on some aspects of human experience to say something about our relationship with God. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is critical of those who seek honour for themselves. At the meal to which he had been invited, he noticed how some of the guests went out of their way to pick the places of honour. Jesus tells us that we should not be concerned about seeking honour from others. What really matters is the honour we will receive from God.
The aspect of human experience that Jesus notices and then highlights in today’s gospel reading is the very human tendency to promote ourselves over others. He tells us that it is the people who humble themselves who will be honoured by God. To humble ourselves is not to make little of ourselves. No, it is knowing our place and potential, but out of that then serving others rather than ourselves; to empty ourselves in the service of others. Jesus emptied himself and humbled himself in the service of others. God exalted him. We too can live with the same confident assurance.
Our amusing painting by Jan Steen depicts a country wedding, where people are dancing and singing and probably fighting as well to have the best places at the table. But once the party is in full swing, it doesn’t really matter where one was seated before. Once the dancing starts, many of the seats of honour that people went out of their way to find are not important once the full feast has started. It is the same for us: we should not seek places of honour, as once the eternal feast in heaven starts, none of it will have mattered in the end.
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