When Jesus invites us to dine with him, he invites us to a common table – that is, there is no hierarchy among those who dine at the Lord’s table. This was a difficult lesson for Jesus’ earliest followers, and I think it is a difficult lesson for us as well.
Most of us are familiar with the passages in the Gospels that deal with leadership and servanthood among followers of Christ, but as we begin this discussion, it would be good to remember Jesus’ words:
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV; see also Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-26)
Similarly, in other conversations with his followers, Jesus told them not to seek or accept places of honor. For example, he warned them against seeking places of honor in the manner of Jewish teachers:
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12:38-40 ESV; see also Matthew 23:2-7; Luke 20:46-47)
This idea of seeking the places of honor at feasts leads us into another area of warning and instruction from Jesus. This instruction deals specifically with sharing meals:
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:7-14 ESV)
Jesus’ lessons here are clear: When we are invited to a meal, we should humble ourselves and not act like the guest of honor – someone who is entitled to a banquet. When we serve a meal or host a feast, we are to invite those who cannot repay us. Jesus is teaching us about common meals – that is, a meal where all those invited are treated equally – a meal that no one deserves, yet all those invited are accepted. In Luke 7:36-47, Jesus even admonishes the host of a meal for setting himself above the level of his guests.
There is a common theme that runs through all of these passages: When God calls his children to his feast, he calls them as those who are undeserving, but who he invites in spite of their condition. Similarly, when God’s children are called by him to dine at his table, they are to respond in humility and servanthood, recognizing that they are accepted at the table of their Lord on account of his grace only.
Certainly, this has application for the Lord’s Supper. As we gather to remember and celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we gather around a common table with no hierarchy. Everyone who gathers around the table is a servant of the Master and of one another. No one is worthy. No one is deserving. No one has earned a place at the table.
But, the application of these passages reaches far beyond the scope of the Lord’s Supper. As we interact with one another and with the world around us, Jesus calls us to remember our common place in his kingdom and around his table – called to be servants, not kings; called to serve, not rule; called to support, not be seen; called to give, not receive; called to yield, not demand.
Around this common table – in common service to our Master – there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither black nor white nor yellow nor red nor brown, neither educated nor uneducated, neither clergy nor laity, neither rich nor poor… for we are all one in Christ.
We have been called to a common table. There is a seat at the head for the master of the feast. Then there are places on the floor for those who serve. There are no seats around the table for those who feel they deserve to be there. What place will you take?