Several medieval European courts retained a court jester. One of his functions was to be a thorn in the side of the royals, especially the monarch. The jester’s job was to stop the great and the grand from thinking too highly of themselves. Rulers were usually surrounded by sycophants and flatterers. They needed jesters to counterbalance the praise and admiration that were heaped on them, to stop them believing that all the fine things said about them were really true.
The Pharisees in our Lord’s day believed themselves superior to the rest of the Jewish people. Their very name, meaning “the separated ones” implied a certain pride. Ordinary Jewish people, they thought, were degraded by their contact with the world, with Gentiles and sinners, and hence were ritually and morally unclean. The Pharisees went to extreme lengths to keep ritually pure. They observed many rules and regulations in order to render their day holy, especially at mealtimes. This may explain why they were closely watching Christ their guest, to see if he was one with them, or if He allowed Himself to be contaminated.
The Master however was watching them. He observed how they scrambled to get the best places, how careful they were to ensure preserving human respect, how keen they were for their dignity to be maintained.
Even a partial sense of who and what God is will incline us to acknowledge His greatness and our own lowliness. Only a fool allows himself to become blinded by pride and self-regard. Being full of self-importance can lead to forgetting who God is, even to the point of committing idolatry by making a god out of oneself. Thus we lose our proper place in creation.
Many things can take the place of God: fame, popularity, wealth, power, influence, good looks. But such benefits pass. We must resist the temptation to allow ourselves to be set up as objects of worship. That temptation comes easily to those who place their security in how good they look. Being clean and tidy is one thing; spending many hours and many pounds on primping and preening is quite another matter. Years pass, good looks fade, and the idol can so easily turn into a pathetic parody of its former glamour. Remember what happened to Baby Jane. The doll turned into a painted hag; the clowning was no longer funny.