No, when you are invited, go and take your seat in an inconspicuous place, so that when your host comes in he may say to you, “Come on, my dear fellow, we have a much better seat than this for you.” That is the way to be important in the eyes of all your fellow-guests! For everyone who makes himself important will become insignificant, while the man who makes himself insignificant will find himself important. [Luke 14:10-11 (PHILLIPS)]
I recently made up the guest list for my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday party. Shortly before the party, I will determine the seating arrangements and decide who gets to sit with the birthday girl and who gets to sit with the various youngsters. Without place cards, everyone will want to sit with the guest of honor and no one will be anxious to sit with the toddlers or near the kitchen.
Back in Jesus’ day, a Pharisee had a dinner party and, unlike me, he didn’t provide place cards for his guests. Jesus watched as the guests jockeyed for the best places—the seats of power and distinction—which were closest to the host. As the men maneuvered around the couches, playing a game of one-upmanship and a grown-up version of musical chairs without the music, Jesus stood back and told a story about a wedding banquet. Illustrating the wisdom of not rushing to grab the best seats, He spoke of the importance of humility and pointed out that honor is not something that is taken but rather something that is given. After hearing that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted, I wonder if any of the guests changed their seats.
After subtly rebuking the Pharisee’s guests, Jesus turned to his host and continued his message about entertaining. Although we simply want to share a happy occasion with those who love my mother-in-law, the Pharisee and his friends had hidden agendas when entertaining. They only extended hospitality to those who could repay the favor, as a way of impressing others or to improve their social status. Jesus pointed out that payback or profit hospitality is meaningless—hospitality is a gift and not an exchange of favors. It has nothing to do with pride, status, or power. He suggested inviting those who could never possibly reciprocate in kind.
Jesus wasn’t giving an etiquette lesson about seating arrangements and party invitations. He was giving us all a lesson in humility, service, kindness, generosity, grace and love—all of which have nothing to do with getting and everything to do with giving. Jesus welcomes everyone into His Kingdom even though none of us deserve an invitation let alone a place seated at His table!