JESUS SEATING CHART AT A RECEPTION
Luke 14: 7-14
Seating can be a tricky business. Since we just finished three weddingsin two years we had to think about seating charts, especially at the reception:who should we put at what table? Of course everyone knows there is a headtable; or do they? Without a seating chart would someone actually sitthere? At a public school assemblyone time, I was involved in a prayer assembly, (yes a prayer assembly!) Atragedy had occurred on the campus. The school had seats with names on them forthe principal, the student government president, family members who hadsuffered the loss, and for me to lead in prayer. The mayor of the town arrived; seeing that no seat on thepodium said mayor, the major proceeded to remove someone else’s name from onethe chairs and sit down! I thought of Jesus story in today’s message when I sawthat. But in our day rules of behavior are being broken without batting an eye.I have watched plenty of people (and perhaps you have done this) move from thecheap seats in a ball game to the higher priced seats unless someone shoos themaway. It seems that some have no problem moving to the seats that are not theirown. The movie popular with college students called “Wedding Crashers” gavepeople a humorous and raunchy blueprint of how to get food and women at areception that was not theirs to attend.In the James Camerson movie “Titanic” the fictitious character Jackbarely made it on the ship by gambling for a seat in what was called “steerage.”Certainly on the Titanic those conditions were better than on similar ships,but it was still a no frills existence. Ships and their first class passengerswere quite strict about keep other lower classes out: they paid a huge premiumto get their seats so for steerage Jack to ever meet First Class Rose was pureHollywood. Likewise as we flew to Germany in July, we looked longingly at thefirst class cabin of the aircraft as we made our way into the fully loaded andcramped main cabin for our ten hour flight. One person had checked the cost tofly over in first class: it would have been more than three times the price ofour seats! No wonder people in first class don’t want others wandering throughtheir cabin or moving to a seat near them! And in concerts, most often ticket prices vary according towhich seat you want to purchase.Civility seems to be at a premium in some venues without seating chartsas people push or butt in line and enter a venue saving many seats for peoplenot yet present. It can be maddening.
But there are some places where one’s net income isnot an issue. Any American age 62 or older can buy what is now called a “SeniorPass” from the National Park Service. The pass costs just $10.00, whether youare poor or rich, and lets you and anyone in your car drive into one of ourmany national parks. Can you believe it? One of the few deals in America. In politics, state funding forcandidates can allows a person of moderate income to beat a billionaire, but inanother race, the millionaire beat one of just slightly more modest means. Inchurch, the prime front seats often remain empty, while the cheap seats in theback get packed! How humble of all of you to leave the best seats forothers! What would Jesus do?Today’s passage lets us hear his guidance. We note in verse one that he hasbeen invited to the house of a leader of the Pharisees. Most of us paint the Pharisees as thebad guys in the Gospel drama, but Raymond Bailey has an astute observation whenhe says: “The Pharisees were the good people of their day. They never missed areligious meeting, they studied the Scriptures, they tithed, and they set themoral standard for their cultures. Jesus did not choose the guests but acceptedthe invitation to join them.” So althoughthey were good men—like some who belong to exclusive country clubs, hunt clubs,or communities—certain etiquette would be expected and a breach of etiquettewould be noticed. Have you ever gone to a gathering when you felt distinctlyunder-dressed, or under classed or just plain uncomfortable? Again, weddingsbring it out in people. Just think of the scenes of discomfort the parents wentthrough as they visited the parents of their child’s fiancée in “Father of theBride” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding!” And think of the discomfort theboyfriend played by Ben Stiller had in “Meet the Parents!” Grace, hospitality, and humility areall part of Jesus’ lesson for today. In this case, cleansing rituals, foodselections, and religious affiliation would have guided the Pharisee’s guestlist, even as they tried to trip up their invited guest Jesus! But it was hewho turned the tables when he noticed everyone taking their seats in places ofhonor! “When you are invited to a banquet, go and sit at the lowest place sothat when the host comes he may say to you: “Friend move up higher.” I thoughtof that mayor, who had done the opposite, when I read that. Jesus, who at thatpoint knew he was God’s chosen one, chose not to take the highest seat, butjust as he once washed his guest’s dirty feet at another banquet, he took a lowposition at this one. What an example. Jesus was modeling how all who love Godshould act when they are invited to a banquet, particularly to the heavenlybanquet. His message about theheavenly realm only becomes clear in verses 12 through 14. Who would invite people to a fundraiser if they couldn’t pay? Who would invite people who couldn’t pay to seethe show? No one on earth, right? Wrong. There are examples of grace,hospitality, and a desire to give children or adults of little means a leg up.Years ago when I saw Zero Mostel in the Broadway traveling show of “Fiddler onthe Roof,” it was at the Muny Opera in St. Louis. We were in the area earlywhen we saw a line at the box office and then another line. Although we hadtickets, I asked what the second line was for. My mother told me that when theMuny Opera was built, the majordonor for its construction stipulated that the back two rows must be keptavailable free of charge for those who otherwise might not be able to be ableto see great plays or hear great music. I was proud to learn about that gift.
Today we wish there wasn’t fighting for or savingseats in theatres any more than we want fighting for or saving seats in pews!After the election this past week I felt like I needed a bath to get the mudoff that kept being flung in newspaper and television ads. What incivility;what does a servant life look like?We need more people to be like Jesus. We need more people like you orlike me to not only be practicing for heaven, but to be living unselfishly onearth. Christians could cordon themselves off in their giant mega-churchcampuses so they can move about with only like-minded people, or they can dowhat Jesus did: every time he prayed, he went back into the city, or a village,or to those who disagreed with him. After he was transfigured on the mountain,he refused to simply stay there with disciples who adored him. That would havebeen easy; but Jesus took the road less traveled. If the Christ of the gospelsis going to change our world, he is going to do it through his beloved bride,the Church. We are his body, who gather to worship and pray who then goforth to tell about him, show others about him, and inviting others to knowhim. It takes us being in the world to change the world, not avoid it. It takesus all if we want to be invited to the great banquet tomorrow, or even the tableof sacrament next Sunday. How willyou demonstrate that Christ has taught you the way, the truth, the life?
Jeffrey Sumner August 29, 2010