The Lowest of the Low
People talk loudly in Starbucks, so I couldn’t help overhear a conversation between a Christian young man and young woman. The gist of their conversation was that the guy wanted to be like Jesus. Commendable! But, evidently, he didn’t think being like Jesus would entail his attending a suburban church. Rather he would become more Christlike by attending somewhere where he could fellowship and minister to those he called, “Lowest of the low.“
The problem with eavesdropping is that I don’t really know what this guy meant by the Lowest of the low. Did he mean it in a materialistic way? Those who don’t have the same resources as him–who can’t afford a cup of Starbucks coffee? Or was he referring to their spiritual state?
In reality all people are the Lowest of the low. It doesn’t matter where people live or how many resources they have. Rich or poor, high or low, all people are lost.
But going out and simply helping the materially poor doesn’t make one more Christlike. Helping the poor is certainly something Jesus did, but he didn’t necessarily go to meet their material needs (Sometimes he did, but not always). He went to the poor because so many (not all) in the upper class didn’t have the right heart attitude. It is not an exact formula and it is not really about one’s station in life, rather it is all about the heart. It seems that those who had greater material need were possibly more poor in spirit and saw the need for a change of heart.
The danger in seeking out a class of people called, “The lowest of the low” is that those who do may be putting themselves on a higher plane. And while they may not say it out loud, they might be thinking,“I have something better than those lowest of the low, and so I am going to go to them and enlighten them.” I’m not sure that’s the way it is supposed to work. One cannot minister to the “Lowest of the low” so to speak, until he realizes himself that he is in the same predicament.
Here’s what God says about this matter (Conveniently all found in Romans 3):
“There is none righteous, no not one.”
“All have turned aside [from God]; together they have become worthless.”
“No one does good, not even one.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This is why all people everywhere need a Savior. Therefore, wherever God has placed you, you are to minister with the attitude that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” That is the message that needs to be proclaimed loudly and one that people need to overhear!
The Parable of The Lowest Seat
Luke 14:7-11 He spoke a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the best seats, and said to them, “When you are invited by anyone to a marriage feast, don’t sit in the best seat, since perhaps someone more honorable than you might be invited by him, and he who invited both of you would come and tell you, ‘Make room for this person.’ Then you would begin, with shame, to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes, he may tell you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (web)
What were the people in the feast seeking?
Was this appropriates according to Prov 25:27? Is it characteristic of genunine humility to seek one’s own honor? What kind of “humility” is Jesus speaking of? What do you suppose is Jesus objective in telling this parable? What is another example from your observation of a person exalting himself? How do you feel about such people? What about those who falsely humble themselves? How do you think the host would feel if he learned that his guest had falsely humbled himself to gain his own honor?
Humiliating the Proud
Jesus is not describing genuine humility in this passage, rather he is speaking so as to humiliate the proud. The fact that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” is a principle of human relationships. But it is not characteristic of humility to seek one’s own honor, as it it written:
“It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one’s own honor.” Pr 25:27 And “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” Pr 27:2
So “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.” Pr 25:6,7
Yet here it appears that Jesus is prescribing how one should go about seeking one’s own honor. As is the case particularly in oriental societies, seeking praise from others was a quite common characteristic of the religious leaders of Israel and the Jews in general, whom Jesus was humiliating in saying this. Effectively he was saying, “Not only are you seeking praise from men, but you are doing it in an unwise fashion.” False humility is practiced quite alot in oriental societies, where people pretend to be humble, expecting to be exalted. It doesn’t work to the same degree in Western societies in which honesty is more highly valued, but the principle is there. But Jesus has elsewhere spoken to such man-pleasers thusly:
“How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?”Joh 5:44
Trying to please people falsely for one’s own selfish ends is not a characteristic of a servant of Christ, as Paul writes:
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Ga 1:10
Yet Jesus was speaking to those who were still trying to please men to gain honor for themselves. Thus he was not really prescribing appropriate behavior, but rather he was simply humiliating the proud.
On the other hand, when it comes to genuine humility this is initiated by a change of heart that works itself out to applications. The practice of Christian humility is summarized in James (notice the verbs)
- “Submit yourselves, then, to God.
- Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
- Come near to God and he will come near to you.
- Wash your hands, you sinners, and
- purify your hearts, you double-minded.
- Grieve, mourn and wail.
- Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
- Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:7-10
The genuinely humble do not seek their own honor, but rather seek to honor God. But in the end, God honors them. A true servant does not seek his own reward, but rather serves because he has accepted the Lordship of Christ. But in the end, Christ rewards him. This is the dichotomy – similar to Lu 9:24 “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” By dying to self, and giving up what we may have sought in the flesh, we obtain it.
|When someone invites you to a wedding feast Don’t take the best seat, but rather the least For there may be one more honored than you Then what do you suppose the host will do? He’ll ask you to give your seat to him
Then your prospects will be rather grim For you’ll have to move to the lowest seat That’s what you’ll get for your conceit But rather you should at first take the lowest place When the host comes he will then save your face He will move you to a place which is best And you will be honor before all the guests Everyone who exalts himself will be abased
But those who humble themselves will be raised.
Jesus and a New Kind of Measure
It’s no coincidence that Zacchaeus was a wee little man.
In Luke 19, Jesus enters Jericho, which happens to be a very short city. Literally. Located near the Dead Sea, its altitude is 850 feet below sea level, making it the lowest inhabited city of the ancient Near East.
As Jesus passes through the city a crowd forms all around him. Zacchaeus is part of that crowd, but as you know he cannot see because he is too short to see over the others. This Luke’s way of telling you not one but two things about Zacchaeus: (1) Yes, he was a wee little man. And (2) he is friendless. Why doesn’t anyone offer him their spot? After all, it’s not like he’s going to block anyone else’s view!
We know why Zacchaeus was unpopular: he was a tax collector. Jericho being a border city, the local tax and tariff office would have made a fortune for the Roman Empire. Those working there would have made plenty of money without even a bit of dishonesty.
But it gets worse. Most scholars see it as a safe assumption (though Luke doesn’t come right out and say it) that Zacchaeus was a cheat, extorting money above and beyond what the taxpayers owed to put in his own pocket. An honest tax collector was viewed as a traitor; after all, the job was to take money from one’s fellow people and give it to the foreign overlords. A dishonest tax collector though–can you imagine the hatred the citizens of Jericho would have felt?
But it gets worse still. Zacchaeus wasn’t just any dishonest tax collector. He was the chief tax collector. A tax collector and a sinner. A traitor and a fraud. The overseer of all the corruption. No wonder no one offered Zacchaeus their spot.
Friendless. Hated. Sinful.
The lowest of the low.
Zacchaeus has nowhere to go but up, right? So up he goes. Up a sycamore tree actually, to have a clear line of sight as the Messiah came walking by. Now, if you’re Zacchaeus, a day of being invisible is a good day. How surprised he must have been when Jesus spotted him, called him by name, and asked if he would mind playing host to the Messiah.
You and I are so quick to decide that God’s not interested in us, so quick to assume his opinion of us falls in line with what everyone has decided about us.
Our pile of good deeds is way too small. And our accomplishments? Those don’t add up to much either. “Of all the people in the world,” we reason, “Jesus’ attention must be on someone else…”
But if we understand this story, we’ll give God’s estimation of us a second thought. Walk through this story one more time. “Of all the people in Jericho, he spotted Zack, the short man hidden in a tree?”
“The one who was anything but righteous? The one who cheated his own people? The one who was friendless for good reason?”
“Jesus had eyes to see the lowest of the low (in the lowest city of all) and call him ‘Friend’?”
Only God gets to decide what God thinks about something…or someone.
Jesus shows us a new kind of measure. Don’t you think?
So whenever you feel like a wee little man (or woman), remember that Zacchaeus was too. And that’s no coincidence.