A Seat at the Table

By Michael Gallup

Every Thanksgiving, my family congregates at Grandma’s house for a feast, sometimes as many as 60 people in attendance. My Dad would tell the story about his first Pierce Thanksgiving. He described a washtub of dressing, nine pies, and what he thought amounted to enough food to feed an army. However, he underestimated the appetites of the Pierce army and after taking a nap found my Uncle Jimmy picking the last scraps of meat off of the turkey carcass.

I can assure you that this feeding frenzy we call Thanksgiving has not ceased to be a furious survival of the fittest at Grandma’s house. There is little decorum to these meals, most carry a fork in their front pockets so that they can sample the goods before Grandma prays and we take turns trying to cut each other in line and pushing the capacity of our paper plates to their limits. Yet there is one aspect of this meal that us newcomers refuse to intrude upon, who sits at the table.

Like I said, sometimes as many as 60 people show up for this meal and sit all sorts of places, on stumps, lawn chairs, the floor, but a few, only about three, sit at the table. These are usually my uncles: Jesse, Steve, Rocky, and Jimmy. Although no one has ever stated that it is off limits to sit there, I wouldn’t dare presume to take a chance. Sometimes they do let others sit there, my brother has before and some of my cousins, but none of them lasted very long; my uncles are a tough bunch to sit with I promise you. Throughout my years of sharing this meal, I like my dad, have learned a few lessons, but most of all I learned that you must earn your seat at the table.

Jesus finds himself ,strange enough, at a table similar to my Grandma’s. One Sabbath after the Jewish equivalent of church, he is invited to a meal at a religious leader’s house. There he finds that this extension of hospitality was actually far from it, the host sought to test his guests to evaluate their worth to sit at his table.

Jesus, clever as always, addresses this act of inhospitability by reversing the table, he points to another recipient of the host’s up-turned nose, a man with swollen joints. Jesus asks the group what is the right thing to do on this day, to heal or not to heal? The party remains silent, the answer is clear enough but in the answer they find their hypocrisy revealed.

The Sabbath was a day to let go and let God, but they were using it to jockey for position, to earn a right to sit at the table. Instead of showing hospitality to the injured man, they ignore him because he is in their way. Yet Jesus refuses to let them go along in such a manner. Into their silence, he tells them a story that gives flesh to the skeleton of a meal they are sharing. He says:

“When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.

“When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Meals are indeed sacred; times when, if we are true to their intent, we are brought to the same level. We all need meat and bread, we each need sustenance and are utterly dependent upon God and each other for this food. Meals are a time to share our hopes and jokes, time to not only share the gravy but our very lives.

Yet we, like the religious leaders Jesus speaks this story to, have perverted the intent of a meal. It has become a time to hoard as opposed to a time to give, a time to expose our power over another as opposed to a time to humble ourselves, and a time to lament our lack as opposed to a time to praise our abundance. But the beauty of this story like most of Jesus’ stories is that it not only exposes our deficiencies, it also offers hope of a better story.

In our humility, Jesus says, we find honor. I said that I never presumed to sit at the table with my uncles; this was not because I had some great sense of humility but because I was scared of them. They are some big bad dudes, but through the years I’ve sought to honor the men who grew up with my Momma and in small ways I’ve had some of the honor and even respect reciprocated. And I promise you, those few moments and words have been some of the sweetest in my life.

I think that all along, if I simply had the courage, I could have found a seat at their table, there was always room, because they had no need to prove themselves to anyone, least of all me. “But these strict Sabbath-keepers had their eyes first on Jesus to see what he was going to do, then on one another to see how they could take advantage of one another. They were betraying the Sabbath in the very act of ‘protecting’ it.” And we betray ourselves when we use the good things God has given us to somehow prove ourselves.

May we lower our noses and seek the last place and perhaps we may hear Christ himself say to us, “Friend, come up front.”

Michael is an aspiring church-planter and student at Denver Seminary. You can read his blog, A Sprig of Hope, by clicking here.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “A Seat at the Table

  1. elna

    One of my ‘secret pleasures’ is to find where Jesus teaches out of the Old Testament. This wisdom is from Proverbs 25:1-7. Just as Jesus rebuked Satan with the Word of God, He also uses the Word to rebuke the Pharicees that prided themselves on the keeping of all God’s commands and knowing it all intimately.
    Firstly it calls all of us back to studying the Bible…and secondly to be humble!
    Thanks for an interesting post

  2. Georgie-ann

    Thanks to Elna: Proverbs 25:6,7

    6 “Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the king,
    And do not stand in the place of the great;
    7 “For it is better that he say to you, ‘Come up here,’
    Than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince,
    Whom your eyes have seen.”

    (And I love Michael’s references to both courage AND humility!)

    Power is an amazing thing, often taken for granted by those who have it. It is the “birthright” of some in the animal kingdom, while others are destined to continually flee and hide from its presence. Power can appear to be self-possessed, commanding and beautiful, but it can also turn ugly, irrational and petty when tempted to “prove” itself, “protect” its position of autocratic authority and dominance.

    Just as it is difficult to experience the internal lessons and external blessings of being both “rich” and “poor” at the same time, it is also difficult to experience and learn the blessings of self-acknowledged weakness and humility, when imbued with an (over)abundance of strength, power and the taken-for-granted pride that so often accompanies it.

    To be rich and/or powerful “gracefully” takes exactly Grace and Wisdom from God to temper the human tendencies and temptations to self-aggrandize and to be blinded by that which empowers. Spiritually, we know that true “humility” before God is a “Treasure” to be sought. And since these “insights” do not often come to us “naturally” — humans being easily captivated by the forces of power and wealth, idolizing them — we DO need the Scriptures to instruct and remind us of God’s true paths of Righteousness.

    And “taking the back seat,” while observing the ebb and flow of life for awhile, can teach us some of these lessons as well. It is very difficult for the “rich and powerful” to learn anything in this way, as they are usually quite preoccupied with maintaining and enhancing their energy and “position.” Blessed is such a person who has tempered their spirit with true love and respect for God and His Wisdom.

    But we are all here, thrown together anyway, one way or another, viewing things from one vantage point or another — rubbing shoulders, vying, testing, accommodating, challenging — Families especially, being little microcosms of these energies that “work themselves out, while making the world go ’round.”

    In God, all aspects of human potentials are necessary and Good, when balanced out with a genuine respect for God as the Creator and Orchestrator of it All. (We just need to pray to be teachable!)

    Solomon asked God for Wisdom: 1 Kings 3:5-10

    5 “At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask! What shall I give you?’

    6 “And Solomon said: ‘You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7 Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. 9 Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?’

    10 “The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.”

    I have fond memories of our (youthful male-dominated) “family table” as well! All the tussling and joking! It reminds me, in a way, of the parable of the vine and the branches. At the family table, we are all individual “fruits,” feeding together, being nourished “by the Lord’s bounty,” (provided by the capable hands of our ever-generous mother), — day by day, Sunday to Sunday, Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving — each “type” of meal being significant in its own way. Little do we even realize over the years, how the Lord is growing us, forming us, nourishing us, teaching us, bonding us, loving us. Each family, in its own style, providing those intimate glimpses of our exposed human natures, revealing aspects of ourselves to and between one another, that we might so easily try to “cover up” before the world’s eyes. Lots of reality checks and learning opportunities, if we allow ourselves “eyes to see.”

    Mark 8:18 “Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? … ”

    Matthew 13:15 “For the hearts of this people have grown dull.Their ears are hard of hearing,And their eyes they have closed,Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,So that I should heal them.”

    Matthew 13:16 “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;”

    Revelation 3:18 “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”

    John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

    Proverbs 16:7 “When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

    Bon Appetit! (-:

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