Summary: In this parable, Jesus is teching those at the banquet how to play "musical chairs" using God’s rules not the rules of the world.
Playing the World’s Games by God’s Rules
22nd Sunday of Orinary Time, 2007
Children’s Sermon tie-in - Luke 14:11 - Using the game of "Chutes and Ladders" we discussed and how sometimes when you think you are going to lose you land on a ladder space and move forward and sometimes when you think you’re going to win you land on a chute and slide back.
I love to play games, well, most games. What I don’t like to play are “elimination” games. Games where the goal is to be the last person standing. Games like the limbo or musical chairs. Maybe I don’t like these games because I have never been really athletic. And while I’m a highly competitive person in “thinking” games, I don’t have that killer spirit when it comes to racing for the last chair when the music is shut off. In fact, I was that geeky kid at birthday parties that would intentionally NOT fight for a chair in an early round of musical chairs, because I just didn’t like to play the game.
Games like musical chairs teach children at an early age that they have to fight to get ahead of everyone else. Okay, maybe that’s too rough – for the youngest kids musical chairs can be fun. But have you ever played with teenagers? It is a whole different beast. When the music is turned off, elbows fly and people push and shove trying to get to one of those last chairs. The teens know that there is one less chair than people playing and they don’t want to be the one singled out as having no chair.
Some people see life as a huge game of musical chairs – at any moment the music is going to stop and when it does there is scarcity. When the music stops, there won’t be enough of what we need (food, money, water, etc) to go around. So, people push and shove and hoard in order to ensure that they will have what they want and need.
But, playing musical chairs by God’s rules is different. In a traditional game of musical chairs there is always one or two chairs less than the number of people playing. And after each round another person and chair is eliminated. But not so when we play according to God’s rules. With God, chairs are added after each round. With God, instead of eliminating people, when the music stops more are asked to join into the game. Musical chairs by God’s rules is a game where there are always more chairs than players. It’s a game where whoever wants a seat is given one.
Our gospel lesson today is about Jesus teaching the Pharisee and his guests how to play worldly games by God’s rules.
You see, in Jesus’ day, when you were invited to a dinner party, cushions were placed on the floor in a horse-shoe shape. The guest of honor (and the host) would sit in the center of the curve. Then the other guests would fill in according to their self-perceived honor. But everyone always wanted one of these seats, up close to the host and guest of honor. Of course, as in any earthly game of musical chairs, there were never enough seats of honor! So people would push and shovel and jockey for position. And occasionally the host would have to come and ask someone to move to another seat, giving up their seat of honor because someone more important is in attendance.
I observed this humiliating event happening once. It was at a wedding reception in Pennsylvania. As with most wedding receptions, the guests arrived LONG before the bride and groom and their families. We walked into the reception hall and there were no tables marked as reserved and there were no place cards to help people find their appropriate seats of honor. So, everyone just found a table, sat down and began enjoying fellowship with those at their table and eating the hors d’ouerves. About an hour later the families of the bride and groom began arriving and they asked several tables of people to move because they were sitting at the tables that were to be reserved for the bridal party and their families. I was embarrassed for the people sitting at those tables – how were they to know that they were seats of honor? And if I was embarrassed for them, how must they have felt being asked to find other seats after they had already made small talk with the other table acquaintances, after they had already used the napkins and utensils for the hors d’oevers.
Imagine how you would feel if you were asked to move elsewhere because someone more important than you was now in attendance! It would certainly be quite a blow to the old ego, now wouldn’t it? But this was common practice in the first century.