Skip to main content

The Parables of Jesus - Humility

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.


Parables of Jesus: Humility

Humility is hardly a human attitude that is greatly sought after in the competitive, dog eats dog world in which we live. Most people want to be the “Big Dog”. One of the big challenges of human life is the very strong need to feel important and so often, at every opportunity, people try to be recognized as being just that. This need often leads to someone feeling that they are “a big deal”. This is something that seems to be a learned behaviour and parents feed this attitude to their children from when they are babies. “You are so......” This builds self esteem, but it also can become a drug that has to be fed.

In the time of Jesus the religious leaders were filled with self importance and at the feasts, which were common practice, it was how people were seated that showed their status in life. The Rabbi’s always enjoyed the most important seat at the head of the table and then in descending order of status the rest of the guests was seated. It must have been really difficult to be at the end of the line – just one step to being out of the door or on the floor.

So there were two ways that people behaved. Those who knew that they were on the important list would often arrive late so that everybody attending the feast could see them arriving and being invited to be seated at the head of the table. Others, who were less important, would try to sneakily move up the order and usurp seats that were higher than those they were allocated. So this “circus” was challenging and obviously amusing even to Jesus as he attended such an occasion.

When Jesus arrived at the so called “Last Supper”, two of his disciples had tried to persuade him to allocate the second most important seats, those at his left and right hand, to them. Jesus then took the servant towel and washes their feet.(John 13:1-5) What a powerful lesson on humility that must have been.

But in chapter 14 of Luke’s gospel the writer records the story of how Jesus is invited to have a meal with a prominent Pharisee. Here he notices what is going on in the scramble to get the best and most important seats (Luke 14:7-11). Jesus then uses the opportunity to teach an important lesson about life in the Kingdom. With great skill he describes the situation where people try to impress others with their own importance. This is something that has no place in the Kingdom and yet continues to be noticed in nearly every situation on a regular basis.

It is interesting how Jesus described the feelings of the person who was asked to give up his seat because a more important person had arrived – he was humiliated. On the opposite side of the coin the person whose statue was recognized was moved up in the “pecking order” and so was honoured. Jesus then made the important statement that “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11 – NIV, used with permission).

This reminds one of the parable recorded in Luke 18{9-14 citing an example of the two men praying in the temple. One praises himself and pats himself on the back in his prayer, while the other person is an example of humility. Jesus reminded his disciples of whose prayers would be heard and whose would be ignored. The one will be humbled and the other justified.

Back in Luke 14, Jesus continued with advice to his host when he tells him how important it is not to only invite your small (or large) clique of friends to eat with you; that is those who can repay your hospitality but to rather to offer hospitality to those who are in need (Luke 14:12-14). These guests would not be able to return your favour but you would be “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous”. Challenging teaching that is as necessary today as it was in the time of Jesus.

A couple of important teachings come from this parable and from the related teaching by Jesus.

  1. Jesus as our example came in the role of the suffering servant as predicted in Isaiah 53 and illustrated in the life of Jesus himself by word and action.
  2. There is no place in the Kingdom for pride and self-praise. Be humble and serve. What we often see in religious organizations seems to be blatant examples of self glorification or the glorification of a position.
  3. Trying to impress others is really unimportant and leads to a rather pathetic illustration of neediness.
  4. Doing what is good is far better that trying to look good. In the final analysis it is what you do to help make the world a better place that is important. The great people in history who are honoured as such, are those who sacrificed and served.
  5. Humility brings the believer to the cross with Jesus, acknowledging the need for God’s love and forgiveness. Many today fail to realize how great God is and how we need Him to give us the new life and promises offered in Christ.


Dodd, G. H. The Parables of the Kingdom

Lightfoot, N. The Parables of Jesus

NIV of Bible

Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973,1978,1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.

Related Articles