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Bible Gem 1020 - The Best Seat in the House - a game of musical chairs? (Luke 14:7-11)

June 25, 2019

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, He gave them this advice: 

"When you are invited to a wedding feast, don't sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited?

The host will come and say, 'Give this person your seat.' Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

"Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, 'Friend, we have a better place for you!' Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests.

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."(Luke 14:7-11)



Oh, I love the text of the Bible. It is sharper than any two-edged sword and divides between soul and spirit and exposes the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Like in this little pericope. It's not a separate little parable. It butts on to the end of the healing of the man with dropsy. Picture for a moment the scene. The man has been seated opposite Jesus, in front of Him, the text says. Then once he has been healed he leaves. Now His seat is vacant and there is a rearrangement of the seating. Seemingly, with people scrambling to get the best seat. Some versions call this a parable [ASV, ESV, GNB, ISV KJV, LITV, NASB) while other versions call it an illustration, teaching or advice. The original word is [parabole] and yes, at the conclusion there is a statement made using this event as the background to state a moral or principle. Strictly speaking, it's a parable. But it is so true to what was being enacted before Jesus' eyes that it is very close to home. 


Jesus took particular note (marking, noticing carefully) how they were choosing the places of honour, trying to get the best seat. I wonder if some of them were going for the same seat and ended up with each person sitting on a half of it, and then squabbling as to who got it first. Funny! These are the Pharisees, teachers of the Law; the religious leaders of Israel. When the leaders do this, I wonder what message goes to the rank and file. It is farcical. They had taken particular pains to seat the sick guy in front of Jesus so he would be noticed. They didn’t need to do that. Jesus would have known his condition no matter where he was seated. But it was all important in their little game. Now that he has gone, they are playing musical chairs (without the music) to get the best seat in the house. I wonder what that seat was. Were they wanting to get closest to Jesus so they could be there close to the action when it happened? Or were they wanting to be closest to the host who had invited them, and so ingratiate themselves (grease up) to him? 


There is some variation as to what constitutes the most honoured (or best seat) in the room. It all depends on the set up. Normally the seat of honour was at the head end of the table or at the centre of the middle couch if they were reclining on couches [triclinium].The sought after positions were on the left end of each couch because the person reclining there had the best view of the whole table, while those who were at the right end had to bend back in order to see everyone.The best places were closest to the host, the one who had invited you, so you could curry favour and be invited back again. A number of triclinium were arranged in a U shape. The place of highest honour was on the central couch at the base of the U. The second and third places were those on the left and right of the host or the highest guest of honour. The one on the right reclined in such a way as to rest his head on the person to his left. Other honoured positions followed on the couches to the left of the X spot. Because all were reclining in such a way as to be looking to their right. It seems this arrangement was throwing them into a frenzy to get the best place to watch the action. 


Note that Jesus said, "When you are invited to a wedding feast . . .". This was not a wedding feast. It was an ordinary meal on the Sabbath. [See Gemz 981] So why does Jesus refer to a wedding feast? Simply because at the wedding feast everyone had appointed seating. Carefully structured in terms of the ranking of the guests. Those closest in relationship were closest spatially. Those more distant relationally, accordingly were more distant spatially. It all went according to the hierarchy of relationship. Also there is a possibility that in choosing the marriage feast, it is a veiled reference to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb when the final judgement will be given as to your relationship with the host - God. 


Jesus goes on to say, "Don't sit in the prominent place at this time. If you choose above your station in life then you will be demoted". It reminds me of Romans 12:3 - don't think of yourself more highly than you ought. It is better to choose a lower status and be asked to move up, than it is to choose too high and be demoted. Either way, you are going to be made a spectacle of. If you choose a lower place, all eyes will be on you as you are invited to move up. You can imagine what the guests will be saying at that time. If you choose higher than you ought, similarly all eyes will be on you as you are asked to move down, and you can imagine what the guests will be saying at that time too. The NLT records – "you will be embarrassed and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table." All the intermediate seats will have been occupied and the only ones left will be the lowliest. Oh, you maybe more highly valued than the last seat in the house, but you will not have the option of asking another to move. You will go all the way down to the bottom. The literal text has a curious element to it. Your shame will begin as you take the lowest place. In other words, in front of everyone, you will be asked to move down and you will have to walk all the way from top to bottom. Your walk will be a long one and your shame will begin as you start the journey and will continue on after you have been seated. All eyes will still be on you and all the whispers will be about you. And it will all be Tweeted that same day. Oh, the shame of it all. 


If you do the opposite to what the world does, and incidentally, to what these Pharisees have been doing in front of Jesus after the man with dropsy left, then you will be honoured. Everyone present will know your inner worth. God opposes the proud and lifts the humble of heart. That is a heavenly principle. Learn to take it on board and practice it. Oh, I could say much about this. I have many stories to tell about this scenario. But I won't choose those that are closest to home. Rather, I have chosen one that makes me laugh every time I hear it or remember it.


It was first published in the Readers Digest in the 1980s. There had been a delay in an airline flight due to a severe storm and many flights had to be delayed, resulting a build up of passengers waiting and not enough seats to cater for them all. So when the flight board panel indicated flights were open, people had to reconfirm in order to get a seat and were asked to queue. All passengers were asked to queue, no matter the status of their original ticket. Something akin to the seats in the wedding feast. The queue had formed and it was long. The Readers' Digest story tells of an "important" man who somewhat pompously walked past all those queued, to the front of the line, and demanded to be confirmed on the next flight. The attendant said, "Sir, I must ask you to wait in line with everyone else". To which he replied, "Do you know who I am? I demand to be booked on the next flight out." She again told him the same thing, to which he responded even more indignantly, "Do you know who I am? . . . " Without missing a beat, the woman took the microphone in front of her and made a public announcement to the crowded airport concourse. "Could I have some assistance on desk #? There is a man here who doesn’t know who he is and requires assistance." The crowd erupted in laughter and the man slunk all the way back to the back of the line, totally humbled. 


Be careful you don't find yourself in a similar position. And even more especially, at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.  Know whose you are! And know your position in Him, remembering that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Worth remembering! Father God will do the humbling and the exalting, not we ourselves. In the Kingdom of God the present order will be reversed. True honour is not that which one claims for themselves, but rather it is the honour conferred on you by others.



Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. John Wooden


The 1st step to authenticity is to humbly admit how much we're inauthentic in our desperate attempts to impress others & God. Rick Warren


Arrogance Demands Admiration While Humility Gains Respect. Robb Thompson


Be humble or you’ll stumble.


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