When I was growing up, we had a lot of people living in our house. It varied from time to time, but on the most part and for the longest time it was my parents, my 3 siblings and myself, and my mom’s parents. Now, before you whip out your calculator to figure it out, that was 8 of us. It that bad until dinner time rolled around, and then it was always a mad scramble to get all the food on the table and us seated so we could all eat together as a traditional Chinese family would.
I remember it well, my dad would sit at the head of our rectangular table because you know, elbow room. Then my mom to his right around the corner. On his left would be my 3 older siblings, first my brother as the oldest male beside my dad, my second sister because she’s like the middle child, and then my oldest sister as the future matriarch of the family. Then my grandfather would sit at the other end of the table, because more elbow room. And my grandmother on his left. At this point as you’d imagine, we would run out of normal chairs. So I was left to sit between my mom and grandmother on this old beat up rusty stool with torn upholstery because as the youngest of the family, I needed not just my mom to help me eat, but my grandmother too.
And we sat like that, night after night, month after month, year after year. It’s just the way it was. But then my grandmother passed away, then my grandfather moved to live with my uncle, and then my sister moved away for school. Suddenly our cramped dinner table was huge.
And you know what? It was weird. It was weird when we started reshuffling where we sat. It was weird when someone was missing. It was weird when things weren’t exactly the way that we were used to. At least, it was weird for me, we never actually talked about it as a family as far as I remember.
The point is, it would appear that seating plans matter. There are places where we like to sit or have chosen to sit, and we get comfortable and used to it. Don’t believe me? Try sitting in someone else’s regular spot in church, see what happens. And there are places where we need to sit for various practical reasons as well, like maybe we need more elbow room, or leg room, or a place to put our walker. Maybe we need to sit near a window because you like the fresh air, or you sit near the door because you like to get up and walk around, or you sit way at the back because you tend to fall asleep and think I won’t see you there (oh, I see you). Where you sit then, could actually tell a lot about you. At least, it could tell us how you identify yourself.
I think that is what Jesus is getting at in today’s episode out of the Jesus chronicles. Jesus is at a dinner party with what seems like no seating plan as people are fighting to get the best seats in the house. And he goes and gives what seems to be good advice, that trying to get the best seat might end up being humiliating if you find out that someone better than you deserves it more than you do. Instead, says Jesus, go and sit at the worst seat so when the host sees you sitting in the nosebleeds then you might be honoured by moving up a couple notches.
I guess that makes sense? All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. So we better go and be humble, that way we can get all that exaltation that we know we deserve… you know, for being so humble and all.
Yeah, putting it that way, I don’t know if I can buy that. Well, maybe because “exalted” is too strong of a word here. The original language has the word for “lifted up”, as in literally lifted up like an adult picking up a kid. It isn’t at all about praise or adoration or other things that the term “exalted” kind of suggests. It’s just about being higher than you were before you were lifted up.
What is the point of being lifted up then? As a parent of relatively small kids still, I lift those little buggers up a lot. Mostly because they’re tired and lazy and being carried is much easier than walking, but also I lift them up so they can reach something they are otherwise too short to reach, or see something they are otherwise too short to see. And I lift them because if I didn’t, they’d find some other kind of precarious way to get up there, like lift each other up or find an old beat up rusty stool to stand on. And you know what would probably happen if I let them do that.
And that right there is what I believe to be Jesus’ point. Often we don’t recognise who we actually are and try to be someone or something we aren’t but wish we were. Sometimes we put ourselves in precarious situations when we try to overextend our actual capabilities and role in the world. Maybe we just feel like we deserve more than we actually have and so we push that onto others. Or… we identify ourselves with something superficial, like say, where we are sitting, and think that is what makes us, us.
And Jesus says no. No you aren’t where you sit. Maybe you are what you eat so they say, but you aren’t where you sit. You aren’t defined by your accomplishments, your knowledge, or your status and honour. You don’t have to lift yourselves up to see all that is given to you, for God lifts you up and helps you to reach the stars.
See for me to lift my kids up, they need to want to be lifted up. Enough that they can admit they aren’t tall enough or able to do it on their own. Otherwise I’d try to pick them up and they do that squirmy thing and I drop them like a ton of bricks. But if they want to be picked up, then I just easily pick them up with my massive guns and all is well. They see who they are and how they need help from their dear old dad with still this incredible physique.
As it is with us. We needn’t rely on our own way to get higher than we are. We needn’t seek out honour, respect, and the best seat in the seating chart for we know that isn’t what defines or identifies us. And we needn’t pick ourselves up to see God’s hand at work in our lives, because if we allow it, God lifts us up and makes it apparent to all.
So Jesus wasn’t just giving good advice, some kind of wisdom for the ages on how to get honour. Rather, Jesus was redefining who we are and how we regard others and how we ourselves are regarded and reminding us that each and every one of us is a beloved child of God, no matter where you sit on a Sunday morning or any other day. And God will lift you up as a parent does a child and hold you in God’s loving arms, making apparent God’s abundant and overflowing blessing for each and every one of us, in us, through us, and even in spite of us.
As we approach the end of the summer months and go back into the regular hustle and bustle of life, may we see and recognise God’s hand at work in and around our lives, directing us, giving us meaning and purpose, and lifting us up as God’s own children. Thanks be to God. Amen.