Reflections on Taking the Lowest Seat
I love Robert Capon’s reference to Luke 14 as containing the Party Parables of Jesus. Luke reports Jesus at a dinner engagement instructing His Pharisee host and guests about the kind of party etiquette that reflects feasting in the Kingdom of God. As a prelude to telling the parable of the Great Banquet, He advised them on how to attend and then how to throw a party (Luke 14:7-14). When you are invited to a banquet, don’t scramble for a high place of honor, lest the host make you eat humble pie by telling you the seat is reserved for some other dude more worthy that you. Rather, advises Jesus, find the lowest seat in the hall, so that the host, seeing your humility, moves you up the pecking order to a seat of honor (vss. 8-11). Following this advice, He tells the parable of the Great Banquet where we learn that feasting in the Kingdom of God will involve a multitude of unsavory people, with lots of empty chairs and leftovers.
But not so fast! Let’s go back to our Lord’s instruction to take the lowest seat when attending a banquet. What should we make of this advice when it comes to imagining our attendance at the Great Feast in the fullness of the Kingdom? Imagine the size of the Great Hall for that Feast. Where would you be looking for your seat? Would you take the lowest seat? If Jesus our Host were so thoughtful as to include name tags; which seat do you suppose would have your name? The lowest seat? If the lowest seat bore the name tag: Chief of Sinners, would you take it? If so, would you expect that the Apostle Paul might engage you in an argument over the rightful person for that seat? (see I Timothy 1:15) And, would it be reasonable to think that there might be others reading this blog who might also want to argue with you about whose seat this is—and perhaps a multitude of others who see themselves as chief of sinners?
Granted, this is just our imagining now about partying with our Lord in the Kingdom of God. Just a bit of whimsy. But, if there were such a seat in that Great Hall on the low end with a name tag, Chief of Sinners, would you imagine such a heavenly screw-up as might cause a chaotic scene—a multitude of would-be Chief of Sinners arguing over to which one the seat belongs? Perhaps the conundrum can be solved if we determine how many seats are in the Great Hall. Here is my take. There are only two seats in the Great Hall and both are well-worn. There is the seat of humiliation and the seat of exaltation and both have already been occupied by our Lord. The Apostle Paul instructs:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name… (Phil 2:5)
As with the Lord, so it will be with all who want to party with Him. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:12). You only get the place of honor in the Kingdom when first you have taken your rightful place in the low seat of humiliation.
The rub, however, is that humility is a spiritual virtue and we sons and daughters of Adam are spiritually dead. We would rather die than take such a seat. So be it! Our Lord pushes us down into the seat of humiliation where we die to sin daily in our baptism through His accusing and crushing Law. And then He raises us up saying, friend go higher, to the exalted seat of righteousness. And having gone higher, we have now become honored attendants in the Great Hall ready to toast Jesus with the cup of salvation.
So, whether sinners come to the table to party with Jesus here in the Foretaste or in Eternity with the Feast to Come; it’s all the same. The first course is always humble pie because at the table, there are just two seats—from humiliation to exaltation, from chief of sinners to chief of saints, from thirsting after righteousness to cups that are overflowing to get drunk on righteousness. So, you party animals, please be seated… and you know where to find yours. Party On!