A Place at the Table
(Luke 14: 1, 7-14)
You don’t have to admit it, but you know it’s true. You’ve accepted an invitation to a wedding and after the nuptials you head out to the banquet or reception only to find that you’ve been seated with either people you don’t know or would ever associate with and, to add insult to injury, your table is just south of Siberia, close to the bathrooms and the kitchen. You feel slighted and dishonored and your indignation grows as you scan the room to see who got the seats you rightly deserved. Are you kidding me? I can’t believe they invited that bozo and he’s practically sitting with the bride and groom. He must be a distant relative. Or maybe, you’ve been to one of those dinner parties where they have name placards indicating your seat at the table. You recoil in horror when you realize who you are sitting next to or who will be sitting directly opposite you. Good God, you think, I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire! Admit it, you’ve rearranged the place cards. I’ll admit that there have been a few times when I’ve been seated at a table right up front and have thought quietly to myself; this has to be some sort of mistake, as you look around at the people staring at you wondering how in the world you got seated at that table. Good Lord! Look at all those forks! You begin to wonder if someone is going to come and direct you to another table as there has been a big mistake. Won’t that be embarrassing.
Your place at the table is what Jesus is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. Two thousand years ago wedding banquets were a big deal. The wedding celebration would often go on for days. Invitations to weddings were coveted as they spoke to who you were, and you didn’t dare not show up. You would show up to see who else was there, where they were seated and, more importantly, where you were seated as it spoke of how the host regarded you and your family.
When Jesus got invited to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath he recognized what was going on. First, he realized they were watching him closely to see if he’d say or do anything that would give them the opportunity they had been looking for to charge him with some sort of an offense, discredit him and put an end to this troublesome ministry that focused on “those” people. As all eyes were focused on him, Jesus scanned the room and recognized the pecking order. He saw various Pharisees jockeying for position and their seats at the table as where they sat spoke to their position in the pharisaical hierarchy. Jesus saw this as a teachable moment and told them a parable to give them something to think about.
He begins to speak to them about those times when they are invited to a wedding banquet. He tells them not to sit in a place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than them has been invited by the host. How embarrassing it will be if the host comes to you and asks you to move to a lower place of honor so someone else can have your coveted seat at the table. Jesus says; But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. Jesus makes his point when he says; For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Most of those present probably thought Jesus was giving some sort of Emily Post etiquette lesson not realizing God was the host in this particular parable. To the Pharisee who was hosting the dinner he said; When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or sisters or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. It sounds as if Jesus is talking about social networking, connecting with people who you think can help you. Instead, Jesus says; But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
At this point, it should become clear to the listeners that Jesus is teaching about humility. Rather than trying to impress others and aiming for prestige, look for a place where you can serve. If God wants you to serve on a wider scale, he will invite you to take a higher place. Jesus taught two lessons here. First, he spoke to the guests, telling them not to seek places of honor. To God, it’s not important where you sit or what your earthly status is. Service to others is more important in God’s kingdom than a person’s status. These folks were obsessed with their status and position thinking that such things mattered to God. In a spiritual sense, they thought it was their rigid adherence to the letter of the law that secured them their rightful position in God’s kingdom. Second, he told the host not to be exclusive about whom he invites. God opens his table to everyone. Seek to become a friend of God and trust God to properly honor God’s friends. If you want to be friends with God, extend hospitality to the marginalized. In God’s kingdom, truly humble people compare themselves only with Christ, realize their sinfulness, and understand their limitations. On the other hand, they also recognize their gifts and strengths and are willing to use them as Christ directs. Humility is not self-degradation; it is realistic assessment and commitment to serve. A humble person seeks and takes advice which leads to wisdom and that wisdom brings honor.
True hospitality and service is what is given to those who cannot repay. Disciples must have a special concern for the poor, maimed, lame, and blind as Jesus does. The disciples of Jesus Christ that we have made here for the transformation of the world understand that. Our mission focus is on those who cannot repay, those who have been marginalized. Jesus assures us, just as he told the room full of pharisees, that we will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Even though there may be no reward in this life, God will not overlook what his servants have done to carry out his love and mercy.
So let us pray that God doesn’t let us get a case of the big-head and that he keeps us humble and that when we wake each morning we ask God; What are we going to do today God, and who can we invite to the table.
Please pray with me.
Most merciful and loving God, keep us mindful that we are your church and that your church is comprised of all people and not those who are most like us in appearance and thought. Your church, our church, is made up of many kinds of people, with many kinds of faces, all colors and all ages from all times and places. Move us to be loving and accepting of others as we strive to be one people united through the sacrifice of your son, Jesus Christ who died for the forgiveness of our sins. Open our hearts, our minds and our doors as we invite the last, the least and the lost to join us at the table you have prepared for us, your beloved children. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.