"Then when Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable." (Luke 14:7, NET)
Jesus had been invited to the house of a high-ranking Pharisee, and as the guests arrived, He observes that they were taking the best seats at the table. Lately, I've been considering this story in Luke 14 through the lens of missions: As missionaries, we are the guests in the story. Those in the countries to which we go are hosts. And I think the point that Jesus makes here in Luke is relevant to us.
The passage begins with Jesus noticing "how the guests chose the places of honor."
Might Jesus make the same observation about missionaries? Do we come in and assume leadership roles? Do we enter with a sense of self-importance? Do we consider that what we have to offer (the Gospel!!!) entitles us to occupy places of prominence and visibility?
While our motivation and urgency may be holy, our means are messy and broken. Yes, we have a call! Yes, we have a mission! Yes, we have a message! Yes, we have vision! And yet…we are guests. How we enter will necessarily impact the way in which that message is received.
If we come expecting to be heard, needed, respected, and valued; if we have confidence in our resources, tools, and agendas, we will naturally gravitate to the highest places. We will be tempted to tell our hosts how it should be done, offering our classes and training seminars, as if we—the guests—should be running the show.
So how should we enter?
"But when you are invited, go and take the least important place." (Luke 14:10a)
What would happen if missionaries took “the least important place”? Could we come in and serve? Could we offer what we have from below or beside, rather than from above? Think about Jesus, the first cross-cultural missionary, who chose to be born in a barn, raised as a commoner, minister with fishermen. He could have stepped into a head rabbi position at the local synagogue. Instead He touched lepers, talked to scandalous women, and washed feet. I'd say, in most ways, Jesus took the least important place. And His means of sharing His message only helped to illustrate its truth. Even He did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).
As I'm learning to take the least important place, I'm discovering the truth of what Jesus describes in the end of verse 10: "…when your host approaches he will say to you, 'Friend, move up here to a better place'" (Luke 14:10b, NET)
When I enter humbly, eager to learn, and seeking to submit to local leadership, then national partners are willing and able to help me find the right seat at the table—the place from which I am able to make my best ministry contribution. If I allow myself to be tested, show myself to be faithful in small things, and serve without criticism, then, just as Jesus suggested, my national partners invite me "in" and invite me "up."
"Jesus concludes with this reminder to the guests: For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:11, NET)
Do you have any resistance to the idea of "taking the least important place"? Talk about that with the Father.
Where might Christ be calling you on a downward journey so that He might move you into a more effective ministry role?