Tag Archives: Gospel

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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Seeing Is Believing. Maybe Not.

“It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.”

Suddenly I feel a cold, dry breeze brush across my face. I shiver and look around in shock.

How did I get here? What happened?

Towering above me a line of ancient white arches stretch from one end of a noisy courtyard to the other. Below the pillars, walking on rough, uneven paving stones, unshaven men, shy rugged women, and children bouncing against the cold, bump and bustle about some business I can’t quite fathom.

Where am I?

A small wiry man next to me asks another, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

The other turns and an ironic smile flashes from under his beard. “I did tell you, but you do not believe,” he says. “The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”

Just as suddenly I am back on my couch, Bible on my lap open to the daily reading for May 19. I am once again alone, warm and comfortable. But I am wondering.

What if I had been there? Would I better believe in Jesus if I could have actually seen him?

Would you?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

1 Samuel 24:1-25:44

John 10:22-42

Psalm 116:1-19

Proverbs 15:20-21

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Samuel 24-25:44: What other sacred book, or history of a nation or king, stoops so low as to record a story about a king chosen by God being embarrassed and nearly killed while in a cave for a bowel movement? The Hebrew we translate “to relieve himself” is literally “to cover his feet,” a euphemism which describes how, when Saul squatted down, his robe covered his feet. For me the raw and gritty nature of this narrative, and in the entire Bible, speaks to its veracity. If this sacred book can be that honest about who we are as people, then I believe we can trust it to be honest about who God is too.

Mark Twain, in his autobiographical book, Roughing It, writes that he doubted the veracity of The Book of Mormon for the exact opposite reason. He found it too flowery, embroidered, and trying too hard to sound ancient. It lacked the smack of reality.

Psalm 116:1-19: The psalmist prays that God would hear his cry for mercy in the midst of trouble and sorrow. His cry is not for help received in a far away heaven, but in the “land of the living.” Some have argued the use of this phrase shows ancient Hebrews had no concept of heaven or hell. If so, why have a phrase that differentiates between the “land of the living”? Rather this phrase shows the Hebrews did have some concept of the afterlife and yet saw life here and there as crucial to God. Hebrews did not hold the view that this life is evil (though they understood life as sometimes very hard), and heaven as the only good life. They saw the two places as connected.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

John’s Gospel narrative is beautifully written, evocative. I can almost see, feel, actually hear Jesus’ strong, clear voice. But not quite.

Obviously John was there. If only I too could have been!

I would not doubt, falter, fall into dishonest, fearful thoughts and actions so often, if only I had been able to touch him.

But that’s just one more white lie among the myriad of others I daily tell myself. And it’s almost as if I’m blaming God for my inability to follow Jesus the way I desire.

God, You had me born in the wrong time.

Yet scores of people touched him, saw what he could do in the Father’s name, and failed to believe.

Belief, however, is possible. John ends this account with, “And in that place many believed in Jesus.” What made the difference?

Belief doesn’t have to be big. I think my desire to possess more than I have been given (such as being born in Jesus’ time) defeats belief. Jesus called us not to have mountains of faith but said a small amount could move mountains. I forget that grace-filled truth.

Also, belief is a gift we must receive. God bestows belief on us, but I often leave the gift unopened. I’m similar to the father of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning who disowned his daughter for marrying fellow poet Robert Browning. After her marriage, she wrote many letters to her parents that they never opened.

John tells of those who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and rather than open them in wonder, they walk away.

Others who opened the gift believed and Jesus calls them his sheep.

Notice belief is an action not just an acceptance of ideas. Today we are often taught that believing in Jesus has only to do with an assent to intellectual truths. Though I intellectually assent to the idea that Jesus actually lived, died, rose again, and in so doing forgives my sins, full belief is more than that. It is acting on what I have assented to.

In my younger and crazier days, standing atop a cliff, I intellectually assented to the idea that a rappelling rope could hold me. But that was not enough. Belief did not become real until I stepped off the rock.

So, I am brought to this reality. Jesus is here with us in a different way than with his disciples. But here he is.  Do you see him? I can act on that truth. In the end then believing is sometimes seeing.

  1. What theme or idea that connects these four readings?
  2. Do you struggle with belief?
  3. When has your belief been most strong?

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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