Humans alone in the created realm have the ability to take what is a necessary and perfectly ordinary experience and make something else of it entirely.
In this case there is a meal. Everyone has to eat. Eating is the way God designed us to get fuel into us so that we can do the things that keep us alive. More often than not eating a meal is a communal experience.
Communities are dynamic experiences and there is an ordering in them. Jesus observes this. People who understand their position and status in relation to the host are taking their places of honor, meaning they are taking their assigned seats in relation to the host.
I don't think it is any different today.
When I was a boy, we would go to Grandpa and Grandma's house for the holidays. There was an unspoken assigned seating. No one sat in Grandpa's chair or Grandma's chair by the kitchen. The adults sat in birth order at the table. The little ones sat at a table nearby.
If we have ever been at a wedding dinner or other sit down parties, we are well aware that only certain people sit at the head table. And, often seating at the other tables is assigned.
This being the political season, we have opportunity to go to fundraising dinners. Those who contribute the most sit closest to the candidate. In our way of doing things, money often commands attention and brings influence.
My point in all of this is that what Jesus is observing is not all that different from what happens now. He is commenting on what simply is.
But there is a spiritual lesson here. Jesus becomes the host and sets the agenda at every meal that he is a part of. It is more than Machiavellian politics or false humility that Jesus is offering when he recommends that one not presume their place.
This Sabbath meal provides an opportunity to speak of God's grace. This meal also provides an opportunity to speak of the contrast between the Kingdom of God and how the world operates.
God's vision for humanity is that we have the humility to not worry about social ordering or places of honor. The only thing that matters is that the host of every meal, Jesus, looks upon us and invites us to his table of fellowship. Jesus will place us around the table. He will assign us to his understanding of our appropriate place of honor.
Jesus is the one who was exalted in the cross. Jesus will exalt, he will lift us up to our place at the table by means of his grace, not by anything we do to earn our place.
In the kingdom of God, the meal is for everyone. He extends his grace to all of us who cannot possibly repay him in kind. For in the kingdom of God, none of us deserve a place of honor at God's banquet table. We are sinners who regularly fall short of God's expectations. We miss the mark that He sets for us. We settle far too easily for the holiness and righteousness that God calls us to. We are called upon to have the humility to recognize our place before God.
In our humility, with our contrite hearts, we receive the gift of grace. We are invited to God's banquet table. We are blessed with the forgiveness of sins. We are fed with God's presence. We are assured of God's knowledge and love of us.
In response to this vision of how things are in God's kingdom, we do our very best to do as Jesus says. We provide meals and sustenance to those who can never repay us.
As ever, Jesus calls us into a grander vision. To see beyond what is to what is happening in God's realm. We as the church strive to grow into God's Kingdom way of living.
All God's people say...Amen.