When Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “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.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
When my husband Jerry and I lived near another city, we had friends who played in the orchestra, and occasionally they would offer us tickets. We love music and we love getting dressed up for a nice evening out, so we always accepted when we could. We’d show up at the box office and the tickets would be waiting for us, the seats always in a different place.
On one particular occasion, we were given four tickets, so we invited another couple to join us. They arrived about five minutes before the performance started, a little later than we like to be seated, but we still had time before the concert hall doors would be closed. We went to an usher who gave us a big smile and directed us to a box. I asked if she were sure, because we’d never had seats in a box, but of course she was sure. She had been an usher for years.
The usher led us to our seats in the second most prominent box in the hall. It was posh. There was a space for our coats and lots of room between the large chairs to spread out. People in other places turned to look at us and smiled. I had this feeling we didn’t belong in such a nice place, but the feeling disappeared as I sank into the roomy armchair.
We four giggled about our luck and decided we needed to do something nice for our orchestra member friends. It was about one minute before the orchestra conductor would arrive on stage for the final tuning of instruments. Then the doors would be closed until after the first piece. I’d never enjoyed the pre-performance so much. Nice.
That was when the door to our box opened and four people stood there in minks and tuxes (we looked nice, but not that nice). It was an awful moment, when I realized what had probably happened.
“Are we sitting in your box?” I asked. “We own this box,” one of the women replied without a trace of humor.
We hurriedly and awkwardly gathered up our coats and purses and selves and scooted past them as they stared. We found the usher who did not apologize, but told us we needed to be on the next floor and had better run if we planned to make it in time. With her walkie talkie she communicated to the usher on the higher level.
No matter how it looks in a James Bond movie, running in heels and a dress is not easy. The new usher frowned as he held the door and closed it behind us. We arrived, sweating, hearts thumping, to our new aisle.
Two minutes earlier we’d been important, treated with smiles and pleasant greetings. Now our row mates frowned as we scooched past them to regular seats.
What a comedown.
This is exactly what Jesus describes. We enjoy special treatment. We want to belong at the front of the line, the head of the table. But there is always someone more special. Always. How much better not to worry about place, because we’re all the same in God’s eyes anyhow. And if we’re not trying to be somebody special, we can realize we’re all special.
This is God’s way.
There is no most important place.
Sometimes I imagine the kingdom banquet not to be some long line of 8-foot church tables strung together, but a street cafe. Open to the outdoors, where anyone can wander in and find a seat. Four-tops fit for intimate talk and lots of laughter. Jesus moves among the tables, filling glasses, placing a hand on a shoulder, entering conversations, being a gracious host. Every guest is as valuable as the next. We are all fed. We are all welcome.
We are all honored guests.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010