Who Is At the Table….Where Do I Sit?
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
This month we are going to look at this whole question of who is at the table through the lens of Scripture and the parables of Jesus, who had a lot to say about who was in and who was out. We know from the history of first century Palestinian Jewish tradition that who was allowed to sit at the table together was a big deal. The Pharisees were particularly concerned about that because they were dedicated to following Jewish law. When you consider that there are 5 books of the Torah and three of these are specifically devoted to the Jewish law, and that is no small undertaking! It easy for us to look back at that time in history and say rather flippantly, oh we are so much more evolved than that, so much more accepting and aware. But as we look forward to Thanksgiving holiday gatherings, well we have to ask ourselves how far have we really come?
The earliest followers of Jesus would eat together with anyone, just like Jesus did. There are many stories about Jesus, which take place at dinner parties, and he would sit anywhere, with anyone! He sat with tax collectors, prostitutes, the blind, the lame, the poor and outcast. The Pharisees constantly watched him and chastised him for this because he was called the Son of God, and he consistently broke all the Jewish etiquette laws of the Torah. There were laws about where you sit! But anyone who has tried to plan a Thanksgiving dinner with relatives who barely speak to each other can appreciate the laws of the Torah! Perhaps a more honest appraisal is the more things change, the more they stay the same.
So what is it about this relationship between status, seating arrangement and self-worth? We have a long-standing joke in our family about where you sit at Thanksgiving. About 4-5 years ago the Thanksgiving after Chris and Bridget got engaged, they went along with us to St. Louis to “meet the family.” We had dinner at my sister’s house with her family and my dad and the four of us. She had set a smaller “table for two” apart from the larger table because there was not enough room at the big table. It had flowers and candles and looked very nice…..except that on closer inspection, it was set for three!?! She put Chris and Bridget there so they could be together and then she also put her 11- year-old son, Daniel there too! It suddenly became the “kid’s table” which was a huge drop in status! Knowing my sister, I am sure she figured Daniel wouldn’t say anything to them, eat very fast and leave. However, we are still “laughing” about it and Chris and Bridget haven’t been to St. Louis since!
We buy into the myth that where we sit, where we are invited to sit is a reflection of who we are and our essential worthiness. Where we sit gives us social status and indicates our importance and rank in the social structure. I often wonder how a new person feels coming into our sanctuary, bulletin in hand, wondering where to sit. I know you all have your preferred places because I cannot see you when I am sitting in the pew and then I come up here and I know right where you will all be!! What if someone new sits in “your” place? It doesn’t matter! And there are those times when you are attending an event and you don’t quite know what the seating arrangements are and you sit at the head table! Bless you and the unfortunate one who has to ask you to move. We do connect status, seating arrangement and self-worth, don’t we?
We may be thinking, well this doesn’t happen to me…but think again! Just last spring in April I attended the large Interfaith Alliance Dinner in Des Moines. It was being held at the remodeled Vet’s Auditorium and all the Who’s Who of the Des Moines religious community would be there. It is the kind of event where there is an honoree and a raised head table with major donors seated at tables right in front. Those are the $5000.oo tables, and next to them the $2500.oo tables, and then $500.oo and so on, placing me out in the hall! I had been excited to attend this as a minister for the first time until I considered the question, where will I sit? I was going to this by myself, so I really started to feel that old self-worth equals level of contribution anxiety. And when I got there, yep, sure enough, I was at table 42, right by the door and a long way from the center of the room, somewhere below the salt. Seating arrangements, social status and self-worth—check!
So here I am in a room full of religious leaders all committed to this cause and all sorted according to status and I am feeling God-awful. Is there a Scripture for this situation? Where would Jesus sit, for heaven’s sake? Well, yes there is a story in Luke, but I was not familiar with it at that time. It is from Luke 14: 1 & 7-14 and it reads as follows:
“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. (Can you just feel them giving him the stink eye?)…When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. When you are invited by someone to wedding banquet, so not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and host who has 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. But 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. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (NRSV)
So far, so good, I am sitting near the door, below the salt, in the place of humility, but I am not connected with that humility. What I am not connected to at this Interfaith Dinner is my Christ self which has infinite worth no matter where I sit. Those who are sitting in the 5000.oo donor seats have no more Christ consciousness than those seated near the door or in the hall. You can’t donate your way to the place of the Christ. Oh, yeah, I knew that! The advice of Jesus is to begin from a place of humility, then it really doesn’t matter where you sit! Let’s continue the Scripture ….for Jesus never misses the teachable moment!
“He said to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be paid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (NRSV)
If we look at this whole passage metaphysically, the table is our consciousness and eating represents our spiritual awakening, and resurrection is our illumined consciousness. Who is invited to the table are everyone, the blind, the lame, the poor, and the crippled. And we are all the characters in the story. We are blind, lame and crippled by our egos! I certainly was at that Interfaith banquet. Jesus is assuring us that when we sit with the Christ, it is not about status, who we sit with, how much we give and are repaid. When I sit with the Christ, fully connected to that Christ energy of my being, then, like Jesus, I can sit anywhere, with anyone. It doesn’t matter! In the Christ of my being, I am always welcome, no matter where I am.
So how did that banquet turn out? Well, as people began to be seated at table 42, here comes Anne Campbell, Mayor of Ames, and Jon Page, the minister at UCC of Ames and other ministers from Ames that I know. I was at the Ames table. Of course! And that whole “story” I had in my head about status…..what a load of c—p! I suddenly got it, and relaxed and had a great time fully enjoying myself. (see my foolish grin?!)
When we sit in the place of our Christ self, we can build a world defined by humility, not humiliation; unity, not uniformity; diversity, not division; oneness, not separation and love, not fear! Where do I sit? I sit with anyone, anywhere, any time, any place, at home and welcome in the Christ energy of my being!