Dining With Enemies 3 — Let God Lift You
Chan Gin Kai
We’ve explored in our last article the powerful logic behind all of Jesus’ lessons. That’s why it was hard for the Pharisees to debate with him; they knew he made sense. We see in this passage another example of how silly we human beings can be, and how Jesus’ lessons expose our vanity.
The Pursuit Of Praises
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)
At the house of the prominent Pharisee, the guests vied for the places of honour. As always, nothing escaped Jesus’ notice. And as usual, Jesus saw an opportunity to preach to them. The lesson this time wasn’t told in a parable for them to ponder, but as a direct challenge on their arrogance.
His challenge applies to us too, as truthfully, we’re not that different. Many of us are just as eager to compete for attention and affection. Are we unduly conscious of how many views, likes, shares and comments we get for our social media postings? Do we boast through status symbols like flashy cars or branded goods? Do we crave recognition and validation through praises and promotions?
Someone else will do better than us. Our egos will get deflated and envious competitions ensue. Friendships get strained as each tries to gain one up over the other. It is a winless contest as even the victor will find in the end that the pleasures derived from such recognition are as temporary as they are superficial.
What follows is the chase after another trophy, a better report card, the latest handbag, a prettier girlfriend; it grows into an addiction that craves after the next high, fuelled by the drug of the next praise or the next raise. It is sad when a person cannot feel good about himself without external validation of his worth.
We may mistakenly think that it is the poor or the downtrodden that struggle with self-worth, but that can’t be further away from the truth. It is often the educated, the successful and the good-looking that need these external proofs. They may appear confident, they may tell others about how secure they feel, but their actions often prove otherwise.
And there’s no bigger revealer than a failure to shatter the facade. It takes only one zit to spoil their day, one criticism to wreck their week, and one poor review to ruin their year. The mind will be swarmed with replays of what people said long after the others have moved on. And the months after will be a quest to prove those people wrong.
The problem with the pursuit of praises is how fleeting the feeling of validation is. It is a hunger that can never be sated, and we will find in the end that such vanity is meaningless.
Yet why do so many seek them?
We seek external esteem when we can’t find inner joy. Interview any random person in the streets and they’ll tell you they want a joy that is deeper and more permanent. But because they do not know how to find that, they resort to more superficial pursuits.
As disciples of Christ, we know where true peace and joy are found. We do not need further validation as Jesus already considered us worth dying for. There is no need to jostle for a place of honour on earth when we can look forward to God’s call, “Friend, move up to a better place.”
The Request For Rewards
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
Well, it hasn’t gone to the extent of a verbal request for rewards, but the intention was really not far from that. Jesus saw their hearts and called out the people who gave with an expectation of returns. While businesses are meant to be profitable, and our work ought to be properly recompensed, a dinner invitation is supposed to be different.
Jesus wasn’t against eating with family and friends, or the reciprocation of love. But he preached against transactional relationships. And he taught the importance of altruism.
It is indeed sad when we get calculative with our relationships. I have helped him, so he should buy me dinner. My wedding dinner is expensive, so the red packet better be big. I bought her a present for her birthday, and she only give me a card for mine. I gave in during our last quarrel, now is his turn to give in.
Loving transactionally only sets us up for disappointments. In our minds, we will always think we've given more, and we are somehow short-changed. How often do we hear people say they’ve received more than they deserve? And how often do we hear people complain that they’ve been unfairly treated?
More importantly, if we love others transactionally, we won’t feel it even when others love us genuinely. We’ll think they do it with an agenda, and they’ll expect something in return. It’s sad when we can’t enjoy love.
Jesus taught about loving others altruistically. They may not be able to give us anything material in return, but God will reward us in heaven.
The pursuit of praises and rewards only steals our joy and warps our relationships. Let’s look towards God, and wait for Him to lift us up.
Read more about ‘Dining With Enemies’:
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. He serves actively in the Central Christian Church and describes himself as “just a sinner who wants to get right with God”.