If you have ever been to a wedding reception, you know that there are assigned seats for guests at the meal. The main table is reserved for the wedding couple and their wedding attendants. Closer tables are reserved for the immediate family. There is nothing unusual here. This is how formal dinners function. The seats of greater honor are determined by relationship (family, business, etc.) to the host. If you don’t want to be embarrassed, then don’t sit in the wrong seat of importance.
Jesus was invited to a meal at a prominent Pharisee’s home. He recognized that the guests sat according to relationship with the host. Jesus then gave some advice on social etiquette. Don’t take a seat too high in status or you’ll be asked to take a lower seat, wouldn’t that be embarrassing? Instead take a lower place and when moved up, you’ll be honored. His advice wasn’t surprising, this is how our social connections work. We socialize with people like us. We use formal social events to get attention, conduct business, further spread our networking and define our place. Nothing unusual here. Then Jesus used the dinner party to get theological. He gave advice for social etiquette for the Kingdom of heaven.
When having a party, don’t invite guests that will build your business or define your status in the community. Instead, invite the poor and crippled and lame and blind. The very people who have nothing to offer in return. Why? They are people of value in God’s kingdom. Jesus takes our understanding of how relationships work and flips them upside down. Under God’s reign, relationships aren’t about using others for our gain but for grace to be shown. This is how our relationship with God is expressed, by how we live life now under his rules defining value. At the ‘resurrection of the righteous,’ God will decide the positions of honor at heaven’s banquet. Once more, Jesus takes life in a totally different direction by his teaching and how he lived life by the kingdom.