Rev. Glen Shoup is the Congregational Care pastor for members of the Resurrection family who have last names beginning with A – C.
In the ancient world, table seating was very telling as to pecking order. Usually the table layout was that of an open-sided rectangle with one longer table in the center and then two shorter tables coming off both ends of the longer table in a perpendicular fashion. And the seating arrangement around this open-sided rectangle was very intentional and telling. The host or person of greatest honor would sit at the center of the long middle table, and then the guest of second greatest honor would be to his right, the guest of third greatest honor to his left, the guest of forth greatest honor second to his right, the guest of fifth greatest honor second to his left, and so-on-and-so-forth all the way around the layout until the guest of lowest honor sat at the end of the perpendicular table to the left of the guest of greatest honor. And unlike in our culture, where seemingly nobody seems to be exactly sure of proper protocol or even what fork to use when; in the ancient near-east (where honor was and continues to be of supreme value), everybody knew the significance (or lack thereof) of each and every seat.
So as Jesus is gathered at this dinner with a bunch of church leaders, watching them passive-aggressively finagle over chairs—who gets to sit where—so that they might be recognized as significant by virtue of their seat assignment, Jesus says this is just plain stupid. You people have been charged with representing and ministering God and you can’t even get over yourselves long enough to see that ‘who gets to sit where’ doesn’t really matter.
…Well, that might be the “Shoup version”: what Jesus actually said was that when you come to a dinner table, take the seat farthest left from the guest of honor, or—take the seat of lowest honor. First, if you take anything more than that, you might embarrass yourself because the host of the party may not think you nearly as important as you think yourself—and he may ask you to move farther down the line. And second, it’s far better to have the host come to you and ask you to move up (if there’s some reason that would be needed). And then—lest the host (as the person of “greatest honor”) begin to think themselves exempt from this essential lesson—Jesus says …and when you are inviting guests, quit inviting folks who can reciprocate by inviting you to their parties and give you a seat of (perceived) importance, instead invite the left out’s and nobody’s of society who won’t be able to pay you back cause they don’t have the money or clout to ever throw a dinner party.
I think it’s remarkable in today’s passage that—in giving us an important lesson in Christian Table Manners—Jesus is certainly telling us what follower’s of His should do. And it’s—of course—consistent with what Jesus repeatedly teaches (love others as we love ourselves, seek first God’s Kingdom [which is to say, God’s way of treating folks], the first shall be last and the last shall be first, etc). But it’s also important to see that what Jesus is here teaching regarding how we should act and think when it comes to honor sought and bestowed is exactly how God responds towards us through Christ. As Philippians 2 narrates powerfully, God humbled and lowered Himself to take on humanity and in so doing redeem us and, in essence, offer us a seat at the table with God that you and I don’t deserve and could never have any hope to receive—apart from God inviting folks like us whom God knew could never pay Him back (which Jesus goes on to talk about in the next verses of Luke 14).
So remembering how unworthy we are before God and yet how graciously God treats us, let us seek—by God’s grace—to live our daily lives without a hint of pretense or a whiff or thinking ourselves to be of greater importance than others. As the Apostle Paul says at the beginning of Romans 12 (the first 3 verses of which, make a great daily prayer), let nobody think of themselves more highly than they ought. …Lord, may this be true of me today, and everyday.
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