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Table Talk

One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely...When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: "When you are invited to a wedding feast, don't sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, 'Give this person your seat.' Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table! Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, 'Friend, we have a better place for you!' Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Then he turned to his host. "When you put on a luncheon or a banquet," he said, "don't invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you." -Luke 14:1, 7-14

There was a man who had dropsy. Now, Jesus stopped and asked all of these people who were following along with him on the way to this dinner that had been prepared for them, Jesus asked them, "Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?" Now they were watching him, but they'd seen what had happened on some of these other occasions when people tried to trick Jesus, Jesus asked 'em a question, and they responded with silence, nobody said a word. Jesus looked at them and he looked again at this sick man, and he said... Jesus took the man and he healed him and sent him away.

And to the silent crowd of observers who were watching him, he said, "If one of you has a child or an ox, it falls into a well, wouldn't you immediately pull them out even on a Sabbath?" And their response was more silence. Now, this trip to the Pharisee's house must have set the stage for what the dinner was gonna be like. I think most of us have probably heard various forms of the adages of, you know it's not polite to talk about politics or religion or money at Thanksgiving dinner, or around the table, that there are certain things that you just don't bring those up when you're sitting around the table together.

And this group that were following along and watching Jesus, had to be thinking, okay, so what are we gonna talk about when we get there? Well, they arrive and they're prepared for this meal that was a part of the culture, part of the social order of that time, and that part of the world. Now, it sounds as though the Pharisees had adopted what was more of a Roman practice, and you may have heard talk of the Last Supper, the type of table that Jesus and the disciples would have been gathered around.

We often hear the word table and we think of those round tables with chairs around them that we have in our homes, or the square or rectangular ones, some version of that, with chairs that people pull up and sit down now, but in that part of the world, and in that time period in the Middle East, they would have had tables that were called a triclinium, and this was a table that was u-shaped, so two arms down the side and a section across the bottom, and these would have been low to the ground, just 18 inches, 24 inches off of the floor. And rather than sitting in chairs, guests would kind of lounge or recline on pillows, kind of propped up on one elbow and eating with their other hand. And in that configuration, in that U shape at the center of the base of the U would have been the seat of honor, typically the host or the person putting on the meal would have sat there. And as I've heard it explained it's most likely where Jesus sat when he had that last supper with the disciples.

Well, the Pharisees and the Romans as well, had used this practice as a way of building social connections, that it wasn't just about getting together and having a good time with friends, but rather it was about making business connections, political connections, religious connections, about establishing a person's position, in society, and to invite or be invited was part of what reinforced that. Jesus understood that this was what was going on when he was invited. They make their way there and based on the interaction and the healing of that sick man on the Sabbath and his silent crowd of observers. When they got there, they immediately flipped into that mindset of, okay, now we're here and we need to get the best seats. And so Jesus watches all of this hustle and bustle as people kind of elbow and jockey to try and get as close to that seat of position and prominence as they can, and then Jesus, who maybe had heard the adage that you shouldn't talk about politics, religion or money at the dinner table, still had a way of shutting that room down. Now, I'm guessing most of you have been to a Thanksgiving dinner or some other gathering, formal or informal, where someone brings up one of these topics, and they drop it in the middle of the table.

And the room goes silent, except for the clinking of the forks and the knives on the plates, because nobody knows what to say at that moment. I think that's what Jesus did. It says, Jesus, when he got there, he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, and he told them a parable. And he said, "When you're invited by someone to a wedding dinner. Not a banquet being hosted by a Pharisee, we'll call it a wedding banquet, when you're invited, don't sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by the host, and the host who invited both you and the other guests might say, give this person your place, and then in disgrace, you would start to take the lower seat.

But when you're invited, go and sit in the lower 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.' For all who exalt themselves will be humbled. And those who humble themselves will be exalted." And I have to say, I've always kind of struggled with that parable because it's almost as if Jesus is saying, "Okay look, here's how you work this situation to your favor and your benefit. Alright, don't take, move and be embarrassed when you have to go choose a seat off in the corner at the kid's table, but rather pick that lesser seat so that you can be called out and recognized, 'Friend, no, you don't belong there, come over here, sit by me.' And then everybody will take note."

Well, that just doesn't seem like how Jesus would do things, and it probably isn't. I think what Jesus is getting at here is it's kind of what I was talking with the kids about. What Jesus is saying is, friends, don't think more of yourself than you ought to, don't think more highly of yourself than you really deserve. He's calling people to be humble, he's calling people to recognize that, you know what, you shouldn't be thinking, what's in this for me? I had a pastor one time that said that opinions and people are a lot like belly buttons. We've all got one. And one's not better than the other. I think Jesus wants us to recognize that in spite of the clothes we wear, the friends that we have, the parties we throw, the people that invite us, we're all the same, we're all people. He says, don't think more of yourself than you ought to, and that last sentence in that portion where he says, for those who humble themselves will be exalted. And those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Well, we've all seen people that have done that, they puff themselves up, they puff themselves up to make themselves look better, and then they turn around and they trip and fall flat on their face.

But Jesus is saying, you need to be humble. Because in being humble, that's when we'll understand what it means to truly be exalted or lifted up. When we're called upon by Jesus to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourself. That's a difficult thing to do if we're not humble. Humility allows us to see ourselves as no better than anyone else, that we're not above them, that we're not better than them, that they're not beneath us, or undeserving of that love and respect and compassion that Jesus calls us to. In these hierarchies, and that cultural hierarchy that Jesus is confronting was exactly one of those where people were put on tears and everybody is always looking to the next rung on the ladder of how can I get up there with those people? But also part of that process, trying to climb that ladder is to look back and say, "Oh, you know what, no, you stay there, down, No, you can't take my spot, I'm right here and I wanna get up. I wanna be higher and better and more recognized." We see the world function in that way, and yet Jesus is saying, that's not how it is in my kingdom.

Jesus looked at this group, this group of self-important, and in many cases, probably legitimately important people in their culture and in their religious community. And he looked at them and said, "Who do you think you are? My father has called us to love one another, and if you're putting yourself on a pedestal, all you're doing is looking down your nose at everybody else." Jesus says that humility puts us in that right place to be able to recognize, understand and know how it is that we're being called to love others. Well, if that wasn't enough to make that meal awkward and quiet. Jesus then turns to the host, the one who was throwing the party, the one who had invited him, and he said, "And you, when you give a lunch or a dinner, don't invite your friends and your brothers and your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return that you would be repaid." rather, he says, "When you give a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." Well, don't we wanna invite our friends, don't we wanna invite those that are our family and the people that we love? And I think the answer is absolutely yes.

But again, at this point, Jesus is addressing the heart, the matter of the heart, of those who were there and of the one throwing the party, if your only reason for throwing the party, he says to the host is so that they will repay you back. Then your heart's in the wrong place. Your mind isn't where it should be on this matter, he said, if you do this to be repaid, now you've already received your reward, but rather Jesus points to the fact that you'll be blessed and be repaid at the resurrection of righteousness, that this humility that this compassion and kindness directed toward others has a blessing that goes far beyond someone else inviting you to their dinner and bringing you into their home and feeding you.

And so Jesus says, "Consider those that might not be in a position to pay you back." And Jesus names those in their society in their culture, that probably would have fit that bill. He says, "When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind." These are people who would have been marginalized anyway because of their situation and their circumstance, but also because of their situation and circumstance financially, they probably would not have had the means to be able to host a party as well.

Now, that doesn't mean that those are the only people that you and I should be looking to, but rather, again, whether you're a guest or whether you're the host. Jesus wants us to understand that we should not think more highly of ourselves than we need to, that we should be humble, that we should recognize and see in those around us the worth that God created them with, that even those who were able to pay the host back, and even those who were crippled and blind and lame and poor were created in the image of God, just like those that have the means. When we function as those who jockeyed for the seats at the table. When we live our lives in the way that this host did. Our eyes are closed and blinded to the fact that all of those people are created in God's image.

That when Jesus says that we're to love one another, we shouldn't be looking at the exterior, we shouldn't be looking at the things on the surface, but rather we should be attempting to look with God's eyes at each person we encounter and being reminded that this person was created in the image of God. Sometimes it may mean having to re-orient how we do things, who we value, who we look to, who we invite to the table, but being invited to the table is important. We talk about coming to a table for fellowship and a shared meal together, just like in Jesus day, tables matter, for as much as those guests were jockeying for those seats around the table, I don't think King Arthur was the first one to think about the fact that, "Hey, if we have a round table, there's no seat or head seat at that table." But we see that struggle and that challenge, even around tables playing out today.

I understand from my history class that when they were having the peace talks in Panmunjom to bring a resolution to the Korean war, that that city, that town was selected because it was right on the border between those two countries in the demilitarized zone, that there was a lot of debate about what would go on the table and the shape of the table, and they finally settled on an oval table, and even how the table was set was down to the point where the microphone cord that ran across the table sat exactly on top of the border between those two countries, that that table became such a symbol of that, that you can still go and visit it and see it there in a museum today, if you ever felt like going to the DMZ in Korea. Not on my list of places to visit. But the point is that we still recognize that having a seat at the table matters and makes a difference. Even if you're in a larger family, or if you grew up in one, that day that you got promoted from the kids table to the grown up table was a monumental year.

It didn't take long at that table to realize that maybe you wanted to go back to the kids table, but these tables that we gather around are important, even as this table that we gather at is an important one for us as well, and one in which... I try to be intentional each Sunday when we gather to receive this Holy meal, to remind us all that at this table, Christ is the host, and at his table, there's a seat for everyone. And the thing about a seat at Jesus table is, no one's seat is better than another, because he invites one and all to come and be a part of it. When we gather around tables, we often do so for coffee, for food, but most importantly, the fellowship, sometimes the fellowship and the conversation brings us joy and peace, sometimes the fellowship and the conversation isn't always easy. We're having conversations right now as we wrap up that series that I've been leading on faithful faithfully and inclusive around tables, and we're talking about hard stuff, but important stuff. When Jesus invites us to the table... Jesus speaks truth. Jesus doesn't hold anything back. I think Jesus got to the table ready to talk about politics and religion and money and anything else that might unsettle us, because the truth of it is, when we come to his table and allow him to be a part of those discussions, he helps us to see, helps us to hear, helps us to understand, what matters to him and what he wants to have matter in our lives.

And the first and foremost thing that matters to Jesus is that when we sit down, we recognize that just as we had a seat, there's a seat for any and everyone else as well. When we humble ourselves, Jesus is the one who exalts us and lifts us up and offers us life. Jesus is the one who says, because you showed up with me, you are blessed. Friends, may we not think too highly of ourselves and maybe think a little more highly of Jesus, that we desire to hear and know and understand what he wants and desires in each of our lives. Amen.

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