Luke 14.1, 7-11
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, 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 honoured 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.’
In my ministry to couples preparing for marriage, I often find that, as the big day draws near, there is controversy over two things: the guest list and the seating plan for the wedding reception. As those couples prepare to make the life-changing commitment of holy matrimony, they suddenly find themselves bogged down in the expectations and demands of others.
In earlier times it was customary for parents to pay for the wedding reception, something which gave them a sense of entitlement when it came to the guest list and the seating plan. But, today, things are very different. Couples are usually paying for their own wedding celebrations, and they have a very clear idea of how they want those celebrations to go. They do not want to find themselves surrounded by people they do not know, and they do not want to find their closest friends cast to the outer reaches of their wedding venue because some obscure relation feels entitled to the more prominent seat.
In today’s reading Jesus is challenging our sense of entitlement to the places of honour. Jesus is reminding us of the call for us all to show humility in the way we live out our daily lives. This is done in the context of a wedding banquet.
Wedding banquets were very different affairs in Jesus’ time. However, there were still protocols to be observed; there were still some who should be recognized as being worthy of the ‘better’ seat.
Sometimes the rush for the ‘better’ seat is also seen in our churches. When visiting a different church, as a member of the congregation, I have been asked to move because I had unwittingly chosen to sit in someone’s favourite seat. On that occasion, as I moved two seats along the same row, I reflected upon this reading from Luke’s gospel. Had I presumed to be entitled to the ‘better’ seat, or was the problem with that particular church that allowed such a sense of entitlement and ownership?
Today Jesus is warning us to be humble as we live out our daily lives. Jesus is warning us that we should not presume that others should respect or honour us, no matter who we are. Jesus is warning us that the place of honour, that may one day be ours, will only come when we have learnt the true value of Christian love and humility.