The best seats at the wedding banquet

“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.””

Luke 14:1–11

The wedding guests are those who invited Jesus. Jesus is the bridegroom. The people who have invited Jesus to this meal have given themselves what they think is the “most important” seat. They expect to hear his eloquent teaching. In their minds, the “lesser” seat is for the sick to be healed. In their minds they do not need healing. In their minds the Sabbath only needs to be a day of teaching.

Jesus calls into question the whole notion of what the seat of honour is. He encourages his listeners to choose the place of the sinners and the sick. Choose to sit at the back. He is telling them to think of themselves as sinners, and to assign themselves the appropriate place: since that is where his healing occurs. The sick man who came to him was certainly at the back.

But in another sense, receiving healing is the best place. The guests at the dinner do not know which place is the best. Would the best place not be so sit with the ones who are not esteemed. Jesus is back there with the sick and outcasts. That is the best place, next to Jesus in that sense.

Jesus says that we should choose the place where we are asking him to give us what he determines that we need. We ask for the thing which, unknown to us, is the only thing we can receive in the beginning: healing. It is like St. Dionysios says: first cleanse your senses and your mind, and then ascend the mountain with Moses to receive the law.

In our state of sinfulness, the most “spiritual” thing we can do is to apply the teachings of Jesus in a practical manner. We must take our medicine. St. Ephrem the Syrian describes the warning of Jonah to the people of Nineveh as a bitter “medicine.” They fast and humble themselves. This is the level of “spiritual things” which is appropriate for us now. Real spirituality is to die with Christ in our confessions. It is to surrender and to trust boldly in God when we obey Him despite our fears. Only then are we worthy to ponder doctrines.

Enlightenment and theological discussion  come after humility. When we have received healing from our passions and our sins, when we have allowed God to create within us a pure heart, then we will be sent to the “higher place” of the learned.

Why would God allow us to come to that higher place? For our own enlightenment? Are we like the Eastern religions, where the ultimate goal is a state of consciousness? Many laymen read about the Orthodox monks and spiritual fathers, and mistakenly believe that their goal is simply a state of dispassionate meditation on the uncreated light. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Doctrine and wisdom and insights into the nature of the spiritual journey are given to us in order to equip us to give them to others. These things are seeds which we must sow. The hermit in his cave is sowing seeds among the lost by his uninterrupted prayer. His efforts are for the whole world, not just for himself.

If and when we are invited to take the “best seat” at the wedding feast, it is given to us in order for us to invite others to it. We are given the place near the bridegroom in order to be mediators and intercessors for the lowly. The guests at the dinner where Jesus is visiting should have been the ones to bring the sick man to Jesus. What is the point of being near the bridegroom if you do not desire for his bride to come sit with him? The sick and suffering and the sinners are his bride!

We are not allowed to have indifferent minds, disinterested in newcomers to our church. We look, instead, for new faces in the church, and we invite them to take the seat beside the bridegroom, Jesus. We are all on duty as hosts who usher any newcomer into the place next to Christ. Coming to church is not something you do for yourself. You have come to work at the feast, to rejoice with the bridegroom who has come to seek and save the lost.

Is someone broken-hearted? Bring the light of Christ to them with your empathetic conversations, bring them words of comfort. Coffee hour is a time for you to include those who are alone or new. Or simply the ones who have not yet had the joy of getting to know you.

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.””

Luke 19:37–44

Jesus weeps because the Pharisees are quieting down the crowds. These are the same ones who previously had invited him to their dinner. They do not understand that all the miracles are expressions of Jesus’ love and desire to save sinners. Jesus longs to see the faith and service of those he heals, because those are things for which they are created. To believe and to serve is to be truly human. Jesus longs for the outcasts and sinners to become righteous. He weeps now, because the Pharisees who could have joined his work will kill him. Who would have been better equipped to serve in the actual Kingdom of God than those who spent their whole lives studying the scriptures? But he knows that they will kill him instead because they did not seek to have a pure heart first.

He is not weeping because he will die, nor because those who kill him will prevent anyone from being saved. Rather, he is weeping because those who are not watching carefully for the opportunity to welcome the lost sheep – those people will be locked outside with the foolish virgins. Jesus does not want to lose the people who could have served with him. He says, “I am the good shepherd” to those who could be shepherds. But they did “not recognize the time of their visitation.” God is visiting them, bringing with him the lost sheep.

When the Church asks you to give money, time, attention and attendance, it is not a case of “them” (the Church) asking “me” for something. It is the King of Kings riding into Jerusalem with the needy following him, bringing you a treasure. You are invited to work with Jesus to feed the hungry and visit the prisoners. Make sure that you are seeking healing for yourself now, in order to be equipped for the work you are called to. You do not know when the master will return to the house. You do not know when the time for working will come. Do not fall asleep. Humble yourself so that you may be accounted worthy of martyrdom, mission, evangelization and service. This is the white wedding garment. Pray that you may be granted the place of a servant. You are not giving your gifts and tithes to an institution of the Church. You are investing your treasure in the project of bringing the bride of Christ – the lonely and weak – to their Lord.