Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
7. And he spoke a parable to those who were invited, observing how they chose the first seats, saying to them: 8. When thou shalt be invited by any one to a marriage, do not sit at table in the first seat, lest perhaps a more honorable person than thyself be invited by him, 9. And he who invited thee and him come and say to thee, Give place to this man, and thou begin then with shame to occupy the lowest place. 10. But on the contrary, when thou shalt be invited, go, and sit at table in the lowest place, that when he who hath invited thee shall come, he may say to thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have honor in presence of those who sit at table with thee. 11. For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. 12. And he said to him by whom he had been invited, When thou makest a dinner or supper, invite not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also in their turn invite thee, and a recompense be made thee. 13. But when thou makest a banquet, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14. And thou shalt be blessed, because they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the righteous.
7. And he spoke a parable to those who were invited. We know to what an extent ambition prevailed among the Pharisees and all the scribes. While they desired to exercise a haughty dominion over all other men, the superiority among themselves was likewise an object of emulation. It is constantly the case with men who are desirous of empty applause, that they cherish envy towards each other, every one endeavoring to draw to himself what others imagine to be due to them. Thus the Pharisees and scribes, while they were all equally disposed, in presence of the people, to glory in the title of holy order, are now disputing among themselves about the degree of honor, because every one claims for himself the highest place.
This ambition of theirs Christ exposes to ridicule by an appropriate parable. If any one sitting at another man’s table were to occupy the highest place, and were afterwards compelled to give way to a more honorable person, it would not be without shame and dishonor that he was ordered by the master of the feast to take a different place. But the same thing must happen to all who proudly give themselves out as superior to others; for God will bring upon them disgrace and contempt. It must be observed, that Christ is not now speaking of outward and civil modesty; for we often see that the haughtiest men excel in this respect, and civilly, as the phrase is, profess great modesty. But by a comparison taken from men, he describes what we ought to be inwardly before God. “Were it to happen that a guest should foolishly take possession of the highest place, and should, on that account, be put down to the lowest, he would be so completely overpowered with shame as to wish that he had never gone higher. Lest the same thing should happen to you, that God would punish your arrogance with the deepest disgrace, resolve, of your own accord, to be humble and modest.”
11. For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled. This clause makes it evident that ambition was the subject of which Christ was speaking; for he does not state what usually happens in the ordinary life of men, but declares that God will be their Judge, who resisteth the proud, and humbleth their haughtiness, but giveth grace to the humble, (Jas 4:6; 1Pe 5:5; Ps 138:6.) Scripture is full of similar testimonies, that God is an enemy to all who desire to exalt themselves, as all who claim for themselves any merit must of necessity make war with Him. It is a manifestation of pride to boast of the gifts of God, as if there were any excellence in ourselves, that would exalt us on the ground of our own merit. Humility, on the other hand, must be not only an unfeigned abasement, but a real annihilation of ourselves, proceeding from a thorough knowledge of our own weakness, the entire absence of lofty pretensions, and a conviction that whatever excellence we possess comes from the grace of God alone.
12. When thou makest a dinner. Those who think that this is an absolute condemnation of entertainments given by relatives and friends to each other, take away a part of civility from among men. It were not only unfeeling, but barbarous, to exclude relatives from the hospitable table, and to class them only with strangers. Christ did not intend to dissuade us from every thing courteous, but merely to show, that acts of civility, which are customary among men, are no proof whatever of charity. To perform any act, in the hope of a reward, to rich men, from whom we expect a similar return, is not generosity, but a system of commercial exchange; and, in like manner, kind offices, rendered from mercenary views, are of no account in the sight of God, and do not deserve to be ascribed to charity. If I entertain at supper my relatives or rich friends, the act of civility ought not in itself to be condemned, but, as a proof of charity, it will have no value whatever; for we frequently see that persons who are extremely selfish grudge no expense or luxury in treating their friends. What then? You may spread a table for the rich, but, at the same time, you must not neglect the poor; you may feast with your friends and relatives, but you must not shut out strangers, if they shall happen to be poor, and if you shall have the means of relieving their wants. In a word, the meaning of the passage is, that those who are kind to relatives and friends, but are niggardly towards the poor, are entitled to no commend-ation; because they do not exercise charity, but consult only their own gain or ambition.
Christ addresses, in a particular manner, the person who had invited him; because he perceived that he was too much addicted to pomp and luxury, and was so desirous to obtain the applause and favor of the rich, that he cared very little about the poor. Accordingly, in the person of one man, this reproof is directed against all those who spend their wealth in ambitious display, or who bargain for mutual compensation, but leave nothing over for the poor, as if they were afraid that whatever is gratuitously bestowed would be lost.
14. And thou shalt be blessed. Christ pronounces those to be blessed who exercise liberality without any expectation of earthly reward; for they manifestly look to God. Those who constantly keep in view their own advantage, or who are driven by the gale of popularity, have no right to expect a reward from God.