What a seat! Let’s see: What seats or places of honor have I sat at in my life? There was front and center in the middle of the wedding party table at my wedding reception. And my fraternity had a Senior Dinner for each graduating senior so I was front and center for that meal. (Mmm. Dessert. Peppermint Ice Cream Pie in an Oreo Crust covered with chocolate syrup!) There was a particular ritual performed on a Men’s Weekend that I served on staff for a number of years where I was the center of attention for the opening act of the meal. Great fun! I certainly felt honored last November at the Birthday Dinner when Elizabeth and I sat at the February table with the McCoys. And I really can’t think of a time where I sat down at a “low place” at a table where the host ever came up to me and said, “Friend, move up higher.” I tend to be humble naturally and when I am exalted I get a little bit embarrassed.
What a seat! How about thinking of the year 2020 as a table in our lives? What has come along and pulled up a seat at your table? And made you laugh, cry, yell, scream or simply shake your head in bewilderment and disbelief? There are these wonderful BINGO memes floating around social media that play off the absolutely absurd and tragic events that have transpired this year. BINGO. Some have been calling it “Apocalypse Bingo.”
My guess is: nobody had COVID-19 for 2020. Civil unrest? How about one of the largest economic plunges in U.S. history? Sure, why not!?! Pull up a chair to the 2020 table of our lives. Killer hornets? Wildfires in California? Everyone had that on their card. It’s a regular occurrence. Hurricanes in the Gulf? Yup. It’s hurricane season. Well, how about two hurricanes at the same time? Better than that…How about a hurricane in Iowa!?! Come on. Have a seat. How about most people receiving $1,200 but Jeff Bezos’ net worth increasing by $87 billion during our pandemic crisis? Okay, Bezos, have a seat. But, just because you are the richest person in the world doesn’t mean you get to sit at the head of the table.
Speaking of head of the table…
Where was the “head” of the table at an ancient Greco-Roman-Jewish meal? That is a very good question. We know that Jesus’ parables are not what they seem at first read and always introduce just a wee little bit of a twist or surprise ending that takes the listener – or reader, in our case – by surprise AND, more often than not, challenges us in one way or another. Where was the “head” of the table? And, knowing that, if we follow Jesus’ instructions, where would we sit?
Think of the seating arrangements for the more formal occasions in your life. A Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. Dad on this end; furthest from the kitchen. Mom on this end; closest to the kitchen. And others sprinkled…how…between them and on which side of the table? One thing is sure: the seat of honor was NOT at the card table set-up in the living room for the kids. I have no idea what Emily Post protocol is for being a guest at such a meal. My guess is the guest would wait for instructions as to where to sit, right? Imagine taking Jesus’ parable seriously and going straight to the kids’ table when dinner was called? No doubt the host or hostess would say, No, no, come sit here at the big persons’ table!
Well, there are a couple of tripping points if we think of “sitting” at the table in our dining room for a formal meal. And here they are:
First, there is no such thing as the “best seat” at the table because people reclined at the table while eating. A person would lean on his or her left elbow while laying down, leaving her or his right arm and hand free to reach for food and drink from the central table. No seating. The highest “seat” in the house, the seat with the most honor was in position 1 on the right. In that manner all the other people would be on that person’s right. With one exception. The host was typically in the first position of the lowest table.
So, let’s hear what Jesus has to say one more time. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 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.”
Where are you sitting (or laying down) when you do so at the lowest place? You are directly across from the most-honored guest. And, no matter how many tables there are you would always be directly across from the most-honored guest. Which, in my mind, is a pretty honorable place to be? And if you were asked to move up, well then, more honor, and publicly given to you. Well, thank you very much! What a great feeling. It’s like that first time where I was told I could sit in the dining room with the big people on a cushioned walnut chair rather than on a hard, metal folding chair at the kiddie table.
What a seat! And like all of Jesus’ parables not only is there a twist or surprise ending but there are two twists or surprise endings or a particular challenge that the parable presents. What is THAT in this seating chart? Yes, Jesus is turning the tables upside down at the meal table. Jesus is also telling us, without telling us, to take this way of “seating” and use it throughout out our daily lives. Our Sunday School/Study Group is addressing this in our get together after church today. Their homework was to pay attention to where their power was limited or abused or truncated in some way this past week. And, like Jesus asks over and over again in the Gospels: in this parable about the table Jesus asks us to put ourselves consciously and intentionally into that place of powerlessness anywhere and everywhere in our lives. Not just at the dinner table.
What a seat!