Table manners in the kingdom

The Text: Luke 14:1,7-14

Have you ever been involved in planning a wedding? If you have, you would8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 not doubt understand the challenge of sorting out the seating plan. This would have to be one of the most delicate tasks! Who do you seat where? Will this person and that person be okay on the same table? Will this uncle and that cousin be upset by their place? And so on. Together with working out the guest list itself, the seating plan is often the cause of many arguments and sleepless nights!’

Which are the two issues Jesus addresses today, although not deciding where others sit, but deciding where you sit. Which seats to take, and which people to invite, these are Jesus’ two main points of teaching in this text.

But let’s be clear, Jesus’ purpose is not simply to teach the table manners and etiquette of this world, but to teach us about the etiquette of the kingdom of God, to teach us the table manners of the heavenly banquet.

Today we’ll look at this text in three sections: 

First is the word to the invited guests – which focuses on humility.

Second is the word to the inviter, the host – which focuses on hospitality.

And third is to consider the one who speaks these words, Jesus himself.

So first is the word to the invited guests, calling for humility with an eye to God.  

Jesus is at a meal with the religious leaders on the Sabbath, and there was something he saw there which presented a teaching moment.

What he saw, was that at this meal the guests chose the places of honour’.

 So imagine a table, a host and his seat, and certain seats are more distinguished than others, and there’s a bit of maneuvering to get to these seats.

Now this was evidently a favorite past time with the religious leaders, and something Jesus saw as a very serious problem.

Because earlier in this Gospel he had already denounced them for something similar, saying ‘Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces…’ (Luke 11:43)

Then later on in the Gospel he’s going to say it again,

‘Beware of the Scribes… who love the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts…’ (Luke 20:46).

This is a recurring theme of Jesus, something very important.

So on this occasion Jesus uses what he sees as a springboard for a parable.

The parable is of being invited to a wedding banquet.

But at this wedding, the bride and groom don’t arrange place seatings like I said before, but the tables and seats are open, and yet there’s an expectation that people will arrange themselves into the socially appropriate order.

 And in this situation Jesus gives what would seem some fairly common-sense advice, seemingly built on that wisdom we heard from Proverbs 25 today.

He says in that situation don’t take the best seat, because imagine how embarrassing it will be if you need to get moved down.

Have you ever tried to sneak into better seats at the movies or the football or cricket and been asked to move?

It’s terrible, or so I’ve heard!

You pretend you’re all confused and this sort of thing to try and cover it up!

So Jesus says, take a low seat, so that the host can move you up when he comes,

and then you’ll receive real honour, rather than shame.

Have you reflected on how much we still think where we sit when we enter a room?

You know what it’s like, we walk in to some function, we scan around, where should I sit?

And we think, well I’d rather not find myself sitting with that person, oh and I don’t want to get left sitting by myself, oh and if I wait to see where that person sits maybe I can get a seat near them?

We do this sort of thing don’t we?

Jesus has hit on something deep within us here. As the religious leaders jostle for the best seats at the table, and as we recognize this same impulse in us, Jesus doesn’t just see bad manners, he sees the symptom of a spiritual problem.

 The problem is that we think our status, our honour, all depends on us and what we can do to bring it about.

We have this desire to be honoured, to have a certain status in this world

And we worry it’s not going to happen for us, that we’re going to be left behind, and so we want to take matters into our own hands and make sure we get ourselves up to where we need to be?

But Jesus would have us do the opposite, to humble ourselves, to take the lower place.

But notice the incredible end to the parable. Jesus doesn’t finish just by talking about earthly meals, but he speaks expansively showing he’s talking about life in his kingdom.

‘For all who exalt themselves, will be humbled,

And those who humble themselves will be exalted’.

Who’s doing the humbling and exalting here? It’s God.

You could say,

‘All who exalt themselves, God will humble,

All who humble themselves, God will exalt.’

This is very important to see Jesus’ promise attached to his command.

 Jesus doesn’t say, just take the lowly places and be content with that, just humble yourselves and stay down there.

He doesn’t say that.

He doesn’t so much eradicate our desire to be honoured and exalted,

but he redirects it, from human beings to God.

He says I know you want to be honoured, I know you desire a certain status,

but don’t seek it from human beings and don’t try and get it by your own strength,

trust that God will do it for you.

God will move you up higher,

God will exalt you,

God will honour you,

Perhaps even in this life, but especially when it comes to the eternal life with God in never-ending glory.  

 

One of the reasons Jesus teaches us this is that we naturally look at others and where our place is, then we hear the call to be humble, and before you know it instead of looking around at others and our place we begin to look only at our own humility.

But Jesus encourages us to be humble, but all the while looking to God.

So that’s the first word to those invited.

Next Jesus speaks to the inviter, the host, and the focus here is hospitality,

Again with an eye to God.

When Jesus was speaking to those invited about clamouring for seats and that sort of things, I wonder if the host was feeling a bit relieved because he seemed to be off the hook.

He was pretty much the only one there who the parable wasn’t directly aimed at. But then Jesus turns to him and shows how the same problem can present itself from that end too.

Here it’s not about where you sit when invited, it’s about who you invite in the first place. So he says,

‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.’ 

13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

So what Jesus is speaking to here is how social interactions and invitations to meals can work as a sort of ‘social currency’ if you like.

I have the right people to a party at my place, they invite me in return, and I get to be seen at the right sort of parties at the right sort of people’s places.

I scratch your back, you scratch mine.

Jesus can evidently see this is what his host was doing with this meal, and he encourages him, and us, in another way.

Instead, invite the outcasts, invite those who won’t normally be invited, invite those who you may even have to go and pick up because they can’t get there themselves.

Invite those who, humanly speaking, have nothing to trade with in this social currency.

Now I don’t think Jesus is forbidding ever having family and friends for meals,

but he doesn’t want it to only ever be that.

 

Let’s think, is there someone on your street, who have never been asked over for a cup of coffee?

Are there people in our own congregation, who may have never been invited to someone’s house for a meal?

Jesus encourages us, to think about our social interactions very differently here.

In the first part of Jesus teaching, the guests look for status by getting the right seats. In this part the host looks for status by having the right guests there, and so getting invited back to be a honoured guest himself by people who know how to return a favour.

But notice again the surprise, that Jesus doesn’t forbid this desire to be repaid.

Instead again, he redirects it to God. He says, 

‘for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

So Jesus answer to our problem, is not to say you should just invite the poor and know that that is good enough in itself, that’s what we may expect him to say.

But instead he calls us again to do these things with an eye to God, knowing that he will repay you.

So that when the people you invite show up late, they don’t bring that nice bottle of wine, or when they don’t bring anything at all, when they don’t make great conversation, when they leave mud on the carpet, when they overstay their welcome, and you think why on earth did we do this?

Jesus says no don’t worry about that, know that the repayment is not in this life,

God will repay you in the resurrection, in the heavenly banquet that never ends.

Now I know we can get a bit nervous when we hear this talk of repayment in the resurrection, because we treasure the truth that we are only ever saved by grace.

But one way to help us think about it is just to consider human family life. If my child does something kind for another child who doesn’t have many friends, because she knows I’ll be pleased, is that a bad thing? I don’t think so, it’s actually a beautiful thing.

Not only that, but if she’s the worse off for doing this kindness, I will be delighted to make it up to her and more.

Something like this happens with God our Father. 

 So we’ve considered those two main parts of Jesus’ teaching today,


His word to the invited guests,

His word to the host,

now to finish off let’s consider the one who give the teaching.

Where does Jesus fit in here?

Well, as if so often the case, Jesus fulfils his own teaching.

Jesus teaches here on humility.

And this is the same Jesus who said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…’ Matt 11:28.

Jesus, the teacher of humility, is himself the only true humble one.

This is the same Jesus St Paul writes about in Philippians saying,

he ‘humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him’. 

Jesus was entitled to the place of greatest honour in all the universe, yet took the place of ultimate shame, he humbled himself for you, he died for you, even died on a cross, for you.

And as he humbled himself, God exalted him.

In his resurrection and ascension God exalted him, so that as you are in him, you too may be exalted to the right hand of God, to take your seat in the heavenly places.

Jesus calls to humility, and he fulfils his own teaching by being humble unto death.  

Jesus also instructs here on hospitality, on inviting and welcoming the outcasts.

And again, he fulfils his own teaching.

Because this is the same Jesus who ate and drank with sinners, who called to himself those who could not repay him.

And Jesus has welcomed you, Jesus has called you, Jesus has become your host at his banquet, even though there is nothing with which you could ever repay him.

As you repent and turn away from your sins, you humble yourself, and as you believe in Jesus,

In him you are exalted, in him you are blessed, in him you are righteous,in him you have your resurrection,  in him and because of him, you will have your reward.

The one who gives this teaching today on humility and hospitality, ultimately fulfils his own teaching.

So if you’re ever involved in planning a wedding, ‘watch out for the seating plan’, be prepared for some challenges over the guest list.

But more importantly let every meal you are invited to or consider inviting others to, remind you of Jesus’ teaching, not just on earthly table manners and etiquette in this life, but what life is like in his kingdom.

That humility and hospitality are marks of those who live in his kingdom, that we do not need to be concerned about gaining status in this world, by gaining status through our own strength and social maneuvering, for in Jesus God will exalt you, in Jesus God repays you, so in all the earthly banquets, live with an eye to the heavenly banquet to which you are called.

Today you are invited to a foretaste of that feast to come.

Amen.

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