"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; 9and 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. 10But 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. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
A seat at a lunch counter. A seat on a bus. A seat at a wedding banquet. Who would think that something so simple as choosing where to sit is important to a life of faith? It’s clear that Jesus knows how important this little act is. It’s a reflection of how much we love our neighbors.
This week, the gospel passage is about planning feasts and choosing seating arrangements. This week also marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for equal rights. While it may not be something we think about, where we sit actually matters. It says something about who we are and how we see others.
Jesus call to radical hospitality and humility shows us that at God’s table our hierarchies do not exist. But in our mind they do. We try to grab the best seat, couch or pew. We want to know who gets to go first and we want to know how we can be that person.
Maybe we’re the first person to call “shotgun” and get to ride in the front seat of the car. Maybe we pay more for concert tickets so that we can sit close to the stage. Maybe we arrive early so that we can claim good seats or parking for the Christmas Eve service. Maybe we insist that only we can take the front seats on the bus.
There are a lot of ways we can make sure we get the best seat and are at the top of the hierarchy. But, our striving, our money, our position are not what God values.
God doesn’t flip through the yearbook of humanity calling only the best-dressed or the most likely to succeed. God embraces the whole book. The geek with glasses, the girl with tragic hair. The woman who can’t stop crying since her divorce. The foreigner. The prom queen. The new father who can’t believe he actually has cancer. The terrified 12-year-old starting middle school. The man who was downsized three years before retiring. The 20-year-old who sneaks into worship twenty minutes late in flip flops.
No, God turns the pages of that book with a great big love for every person there. The hierarchy, the seats of honor are things of our own making. The rules and laws that assure us that we always get the seat of in the front of the bus or the best parking spot at work are ours. Jesus invites us to let go of our hierarchies and our guest lists and our titles and unfair laws.
When we let go of the hierarchy. When we stop competing for the best seat, we can simply be who we are. We can plop down in the back pew, no wait, that’s the seat of honor in a Presbyterian church. We can plop down in the front pew and simply be what we were created to be—at peace in the presence of God and each other.