In Luke 14, we read of Jesus continuing his journey toward Jerusalem, and at almost every stop having a parable to say. In chapter 14:1, 7-14 Jesus, having accepted a dinner invitation, finds himself in the house of the leader of the Pharisees. Sitting there he quietly notices how the guests that came in took the places of honor. He then decides to tell them a parable, first addressing the guests and then the host. Jesus’ parables are not fairytales or mindless stories; they reflect real-life situations and are birthed out of the socio-cultural setting of his time.
American New Testament scholar Joel B. Green opines that in the Greco-Roman world sharing of meals were not just an act of hospitality but also a barometer of social relations. The host’s status determined whom he invited as the invited would either enhance or preserve the host’s social status, after all social standing and social stratification characterized social relations. Since one’s social status was valued and sought after where one sat or was allowed to sit was crucial, and it was for two reasons: a) it publicly acknowledged the status of the guest, b) mirrored the host’s relationship to that particular guest, which was also a sign of the host’s social class. Jesus, therefore, in stating the parable exploits the cultural practice of sharing meals and confronts the entitlement mentality of the guests.
As a response to the guests’ lust for honor Jesus insists that honor needs to be accorded, not pursued. He tells them not to seek places of honor but rather to take the lowest place. Jesus insists on humility by saying that, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (v.11). Humility is a virtue; it is a kingdom ethic. The first will be the last and the last will be the first. This implies a complete reversal of the social order and Jesus alludes to it just as he often does.
Humility, here, stands in direct opposition to entitlement. What do I mean by entitlement? Entitlement is best understood as the inherent right to something. Entitlement mentality is a feeling that one deserves the privileges and resources and others do not. One feels has the right to do, say, or receive something. This is different from self-confidence. One could feel entitled to something because of one’s gender, skin pigmentation, economic status, occupation, sexual orientation and so on. Entitlement is a sign of privilege and at worse pride. It functions as a mechanism of exercising control. The more wealth, (access to) power, and privilege one has the more likely one feels entitled to something. It creates a feeling of superiority over the other, potentially leading to narcissism. A sense of entitlement makes one feel larger than life as one constantly acts on the compelling need for acknowledgement, applause, and prominence.
Entitlement mentality is even reflected in world politics. Whether it is India’s colonization of Kashmir or Israel’s occupation of Palestine entitlement is certainly at the heart of such injustices. It is also reflected in workplaces where men feel entitled to more pay than women. And quite frankly, I don’t think I must aver how entitlement plays out in relationships. Race, caste, class, profession, and gender accord a certain amount of power to each of us that eventually result in us feeling supercilious and deserving than the one next to us. The repercussions are an unwillingness to welcome and make space for the one who is less fortunate than we are, and a refusal to work for the welfare of those in need. An entitled individual lacks accountability and gratitude, always wanting to be served and respected because of what s/he is or possesses. Jesus in saying the parable questions the entitlement of the rich guests as they felt they had the right to take the place of honor, forgetting to give space to those around.
Jesus confronted the entitlement of the guests and insisted on humility and making welcome the poor, the needy, and the sick. But what does it mean to be humble in this context? To be humble does not mean to be meek or modest, but to be able to undo ourselves by questioning our privileges and access to power and move away from its abusive use. As Nikki Young opines, “humility is, in part, the ability to recognize ourselves fully in relation to another self.”If anything the privileges and influence that we have should make us more accountable and responsible, not proud and arrogant. Jesus challenges us, just like he did the guests, to abrogate our conceit and self-centeredness, refrain from accentuating our status, and be willing to offer the best to others, to make space for all. Jesus urges us to revoke the entitlement mentality that impetrates and manipulates people and relationships to self-serving ends, and calls us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8).