Given the choice, I’d probably preach one of Jesus’ parables nine times out of ten. I find trying to cobble a sermon together using narrative and duct tape to be the bane of my homilectal life. Worse yet, a story like we find for Proper 17, year C, when Jesus gets all… proverbial. It’d be so much better if the story of banquet seating is a parable of the Kingdom, but alas, it is just Jesus playing the role of Emily Post.
As Luke tells the story, Jesus has been invited to a fancy dinner at the home of a Synagogue leader. As one does, Jesus begins his evening by people watching: he takes note of who people talk to and who they avoid; he noticed who opted for top shelf drinks and who is more a beer-in-a-napkin sort of person; he watched the awkward middle-school-lunch-room-esque search for the perfect place to sit. And then he just opened his mouth and spoke. Plainly. Mater of factly. Almost in a pithy way, Jesus took the crowd to school by way of what almost feels like a proverb.
“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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
What strikes me most in this lesson is the motivation Jesus gives. Don’t take the best seat, he says, because you might be disgraced when you are asked to move. Conversely, he suggests that one should take the lowest seat so that you might be honored by being invited to a better spot. Really? Is this the motivation Jesus wants us to have?
I really struggle with this lesson. I’m hoping that maybe somebody out there can help me with this one.