During my career of working for Baptist organizations, my position often included responsibilities for event planning. Additionally, my wife, Melanie, is an experienced wedding coordinator, meeting planner, and caterer. As organizers, hosts, and frequent attendees, we’ve had more than our share of seating charts and head table designations.
I imagine it didn’t take long after the invention of the table (around 700 BC) for the idea of dinner parties to emerge, and for simple seating logistics to be overtaken by considerations of social standing. Whether the venue is set for a banquet, a conference, a political fundraiser, or, in Jesus’ parable, a wedding feast, the idea of a head table is simple: It’s where the most important people—dignitaries, guests of honor, keynote speakers—get to sit.
We know how this works; we understand the power of status and the lure of recognition. Skeptics make the case that Jesus is merely suggesting a clever strategy that masks pride with a humble veneer. What if I test that notion by repeatedly volunteering for the “lesser” roles, the behind-the-scenes tasks? When my humble attitude and actions go unnoticed and unappreciated, what then?
Jesus, as was his way, upends conventional wisdom and accepted custom. He flips the seating chart upside down and inside out. Guests invited to live in God’s Kingdom are to arrive with no expectations, no intent to finagle our way to seats of honor or tables of preferred guests.
Humility is a spiritual posture that leaves room for surprise and grace. As for Jesus’ stunning “clincher” in verse 11, perhaps that also means leaving our notions about being “exalted” up to God.
What might be required for you to gravitate to a more “humble seat” in situations where your standing in the eyes of others really matters to you?
O God, may I welcome Jesus’ invitation to find the humble seats in my life, and by doing so, glimpse him sitting with me at the table of grace. Amen.