Proverbial Jesus

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.

4 thoughts on “Proverbial Jesus

  1. Perhaps we should consider all the characters in this story – not only those of us who are wrestling with the dilemma of where to sit, but also the “host” who lets us know if we’ve chosen wisely. In a spiritual sense, the “host” is God. But in a worldly sense (an actual banquet), the “host” is another human. Why does one person have the authority to decide where another person should sit? Power? Wealth? Education? Race? Religion? (This may also be a good place to consider this story in the context of Dr. King’s speech of 50 years ago.) I don’t think this story is about motivation, or what might happen if someone else tells us that we’re sitting in the wrong place. This is a story about humility, which calls us to treat others with mutual respect and dignity and love. But humility is a most perplexing character trait – we need to be humble without knowing it, because as soon as we THINK we are humble, we are not! Our challenge is to fill ourselves with God’s love, so we just do it naturally.

  2. One of my usual and customary commentators says no so Emily Post, especially in context of all, including the bit left out, it’s much more about our vision of ourselves in the Kingdom of God. At least for me, it’s getting hard to preach the parables without sounding like Jeremiah, which, if I’m honest, isn’t all that comfortable.

    As for me, I playing with hospitality from Hebrews; at least until we get to that list.

  3. Jesus is talking about the heavenly feast, where we all are invited. Some of us like to give our opinion of scripture and the mission of Jesus. This parable puts us in our place and reminds us that someone else always knows more than we. It reminds us that we are humbled in the presence of God. Thank you for sharing this post.

  4. Even if the focus is the kingdom of God and/or humility is important, it is odd that the apparent motive for claiming a low status for myself is to have the host promote me to a higher spot. One detail that helps me a bit is that Jesus specifies a wedding feast, though that apparently wasn’t the type of feast he observed. I wonder if Jesus is giving a nod to our tendency toward social comparison and status, but, by specifying a wedding feast, making sure we know that status is a lesser concern. Whether we’re talking about two humans getting married or the wedding supper of the Lamb, the primary focus is always on the bride and groom, not on the status pecking order of the guests.

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