Sundays when I was a child were high points of the weeks. Like most Southern Baptists, the whole family would attend (unless something pressing occurred – like having to go to in-laws instead). Mama would have cooked a ham or fried some chicken, and we’d have all the appropriate side dishes. We’d use the “good” china and silverware, and the white linen tablecloth would be crisp and spotless. If the bachelor preacher had no other invitation, he would join us for dinner. He lived in our garage apartment and had his knees under our table so often he was like a family member. Occasionally, we’d invite someone or a couple from church, whether we knew them or not. That was southern hospitality, as we saw it.
Everybody had a place at the table; Daddy sat at one end, Mama at the other. My place was next to Mama so she could keep me on the straight and narrow. The preacher sat next to Daddy, and relatives and friends filled in the rest of the seating. We didn’t have a grand dining room or a large table, but there was always room for one more place.
Jesus was like our preacher. He’d been invited to dinner at the home of a leader of the Pharisees after Sabbath service at the synagogue. Seating at dinner had a very particular order. Those of higher status or whom the host wanted to talk to during dinner were at the top end of the table. The lower end was for those not in favor or who were of lower status. To take a place to which one wasn’t meant to have was a shameful act and one which fellow diners would notice. It was better to wait and be shown to a seat, whether at the top of the table, the middle, or the bottom, was far better and showed better manners.
The point of the parable was, however, a lesson on humility. We could probably deliver a sermon on assuming positions to which others were not entitled every time someone breaks into the checkout line at the grocery store, cuts someone else off in traffic, or presumes to speak for others without in fact representing them with their consent. Maybe such sermons are needed, but unless it occupies 140 characters or less, they may be ignored, especially by those who most need to hear them.
Look for other humble people in the Bible. It’s full of them. Perhaps that’s why Jesus used them so often as illustrations in his parables and stories. Which stories can you remember offhand? The woman with the two coppers to give to the synagogue? The woman with the hemorrhage? The blind, lame, leprous, and mentally ill who asked for help without real hope that Jesus would be more merciful to them than other people had been? The children who Jesus invited to come to him instead of being shooed away as nuisances? The early Christians who practiced the servant ministries that cared for the less fortunate? There are many more.
This week what would happen if we choose not to honk at the person who cuts us off in traffic? What would it be like to give up a place in line to someone who might really need it? What if we gave a cup of hot coffee to a person begging on the street corner? Could we give up a seat on the bus, train, or subway to an elder, or give a ride to a person who needs to get to the doctor or the store? There are so many ways of being humble and helpful, making it another step on the road to creating God’s kingdom on earth.
Let’s try a few.
Image: Among the Humble, Léon Augustin Lhermitte, 1905. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.