Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here’, than to be put lower in the presence of a noble. Proverbs 25:6-7
When [Jesus] noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. ‘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; and 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. 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.’ Luke 14:7-11
Jesus starts in about humility and he seems to be sharing a bit of shrewd, face-saving advice. This is how one gets along in this world and makes a good impression. It's good advice, though it's not original. Jesus is taking off from a passage in the Book of Proverbs. We, who live and work at this university, a status-conscious, results-oriented environment, might even do well to take what Jesus says to heart and seek to so order our actions. In doing so, we might be regarded as wise, or politically astute.
But Jesus isn't talking about universities. Though the jumping off point of his parable is a sabbath meal, he's not talking about any situation of human making. The key to understanding what Jesus is on about is in his choice of location for his parable: it's a wedding banquet and when Jesus talks about wedding banquets, he always has the reign of God on his mind.
While his words are directed to those who have taken places of honor, these same words are (arguably) intended to be heard by those who don't imagine themselves to have a seat at the table, much less a good one. Jesus is talking to the people of privilege, but everyone else can hear him just fine. Jesus' words can be helpful correctives for those of us who are inclined to get full of self-satisfaction, but they are even more wonderful gifts to us who have been led to imagine that we have nothing to contribute of any value at all.
The wedding banquet is Jesus' own celebration. It's his coronation as the one who presides over the righteous reign of God when the whole created order is restored according to God's own vision and life is in abundance. It's the reality that is anticipated when Jesus is described in the Creed as "seated at the right hand of God."
But the story doesn't begin in the wedding hall. It begins with Jesus' self-emptying and his joining our humanity and then, as the scriptures describe, becoming humble through obedience to the point of a shameful, criminal's death on a cross (Philippians 2).
Though there might be days when you feel low, Jesus humiliation takes him lower still. This is not to shame you or to prod you to being more optimistic or thankful. Jesus is lower still to accompany you, to give you a solid footing, not of your making, but of Jesus' resurrection. Jesus, having been so shamed, is raised up from the dead and, for the sake of his obedience, is brought to the place of highest honor. Because Christ unites himself with you in his death, you are now united with him in his resurrection and place of honor, not of your own making. Jesus takes you there.
When Jesus talks about taking the worst seat at the table, he's talking about himself. When he talks about being called up to a place of honor, he's talking about you.
This assurance of divine favor allows us to walk into all of the rooms of human making without fear or apprehension. Our calling is only to live into the reality of Christ's own making and to invite others to do the same.
Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.