Fancy dinners and false beliefs

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, February 1, 2014

One night, Jesus was invited to dinner.

Now one of the things you have to understand is that back in Jesus’ day, there were customs and traditions when it came to formal dinners. For instance, when you arrived at a host’s dinner table, you were not allowed to seat yourself. Instead, the host would tell you where to eat. If you were seated near the host, then you were considered important, respected. However, if you were placed at the other end of the table, the opposite was true.

The food you were served was also an indicator of how highly you were viewed in the eyes of the host. The better your food, the greater the esteem. So just imagine sitting down at a table with three bottles of wine: an expensive bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, a nice California red, and a red Solo cup filled with something that smelled like feet. Not only would you savor or suffer the taste of what you were served, you would also experience the subtle implications of your social value with every sip.

Finally, as you might expect, at the dinner table, the most important and respected person present was the host. The host was in control of the entire night. He determined what you ate, when you ate, where you sat, what you talked about, and to whom you spoke. Everyone wanted to be as near to the host as possible.

But when Jesus goes to this dinner party, things are different. Primarily, there are no seat assignments. Everyone is allowed to sit where they want. And as you might suspect, everyone is trying to sit as close to the host as they can.

Then, as the dinner begins, Jesus does something else that breaks tradition: he starts the conversation. First, he addresses the guests at the table. He tells them that the next time they are invited to an important dinner, rather than trying to find a seat nearest the host, they should choose to sit at the other end of the table. That way, if someone more esteemed in the eyes of the host arrives, they won’t be embarrassed by being sent farther down the table. By the same token, if they are sitting far away from the host and are invited to come sit closer, they will look all the more respected in the eyes of those around the table. The truth is, he says: those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

So at first glance, it seems like Jesus is just giving proper dinner etiquette. But then Jesus continues to talk.

Jesus next addresses the host. He tells him that the next time he hosts a dinner party, he shouldn’t invite esteemed people like those sitting around the table that night – people who might return the favor one day. Instead, he should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind – people who could never repay him. That, Jesus says, is how he will truly be rewarded. For, again, those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

So, to the guests at the dinner Jesus says “Choose a lowlier seat.” And to the host, Jesus says, “Choose lowlier guests.” And they’re all thinking to themselves, “Who invited this guy?”  Because to those around the table, not only do Jesus’ words not make sense, they’re somewhat offensive. Jesus isn’t only challenging the social structures around the dinner table; he’s questioning the very goals and motives of those living in that society, the men sitting right next to him. He’s instilling in them an irritating kernel of doubt, suggesting that what they have

believed to be the purpose and proper system for their lives is, in fact, at odds with what God truly desires.

The more you read about Jesus though, the more you realize that he’s okay with that. Jesus is making a point at the dinner: our desire in this life shouldn’t be to elevate ourselves; rather it should be to elevate those who can’t elevate themselves. This is what God truly desires for our world. This is what the people around that table needed to hear. This is the truth they need to believe.

I believe there are times in all of our lives when we need the same sort of experience the guests around the table had that night. We need moments where we test our long-held beliefs – whether we heard them in church, learned them from our parents, or gained them through our own experiences – by asking “What does God believe? What does the Bible really say about this?  And how do my beliefs compare?”

That’s why this Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church, we’re kicking off a new sermon series called “What Christians Believe.” For five weeks, we’re going look at some of the tough questions so many of us are facing these days. Questions like: What does the Bible really say about war? Women? Homosexuality? It’s a chance to question why we believe what we believe and an opportunity to find answers to the questions that still linger. And I have a feeling that what we will discover may surprise us all.

So ask yourself, if you were having dinner with Jesus, how might he speak to you?  Would he say, “Well done!” You have followed all of my teachings faithfully, and our hearts are truly aligned?” Or would he say, “There is much for you yet to learn, my child? Come learn from me some more!” Are you sure?

May you spend time each day searching for God’s truth. May you always be open to the fact that there may still be more that Jesus desires to teach you. And may you find that as you study his teachings, our Lord will lead you to an understanding that bears fruit not only in your soul, but in the lives of those around you as well.

BRANDON ROBBINS is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or