Where is the worst seat in your house? The worst seat at our dinner table is the one on the end of the table. The table is set too close to the wall and the seat at that end has arm rests, so it is very difficult to get into and out of the chair. No one sits there during a regular week, our family isn’t big enough to force one of us into that seat. But every now and then we have guests over, and then someone has to sit there. Guests can tell that it is the least used seat (having kids means having messy chairs, although I’m not sure my seat is any cleaner), and so they automatically head over there to sit down. I always try to intervene and get them into a better seat. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I try to be hospitable.
Jesus gives a lesson in seating charts in the lectionary reading this week. He is frustrated at the social scrambling that goes on as folks try to grab important/good seats. We don’t really have a hierarchy in seating in 21st century America, so this passage seems a little strange to us. But consider it this way, if you go to a restaurant, are there some seats that are better than others? Perhaps you want to be closer to the TV to see the game, or closer to the window for the view, or farther away from the noise of the kitchen, or away from the cold wind blowing in the open door… There are still good seats and bad seats. How often do you walk in to eat somewhere and look for the worst seat in the place and ask to sit there? I never do. Maybe I need to work on that.
But Jesus isn’t just talking about seating charts. He is using this example to teach a deeper revelation of behavior. True humility is a hallmark of the Christian faith. When we realize that we are broken, we cannot save ourselves, and Jesus came for not just me, but all of us, humility begins to grow in healthy ways.
Jesus goes on to give instructions about guest lists. He is quite the party planner, but his invitation list doesn’t include a lot of what the world thinks of as A-listers. Instead, Jesus endorses a special welcome to the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. Also something I need to work on.
This got me thinking about Church. Where is the worst seat in your church? Your Sunday School class? Your fellowship meal or love feast? Who sits there? Do you? Do your seating charts and guest lists reflect the Kingdom? Or does it reflect and reinforce the repayment scheme Jesus warns about in verse 14?