Connections 11.01.2020: Seating Arrangements

Matthew 23:1-12

I have had a recurring—well, I don’t know what you’d call it. I’m pretty sure it’s not a vision (I know I don’t go into a trance). Maybe it’s just a fantasy. Maybe it’s just the result of my imagination running away with me. Or maybe it’s a hope.

Whatever it is, I’ve decided to put it in writing for the first time. So here goes.

Jesus has returned. The great messianic banquet is taking place. There is a head table. Other tables go out from the head table as far as even our new heavenly eyes can see.

Jesus is sitting at the center of the head table. A group of people are milling about near it. They are as close to it as they can get without standing on the same side where Jesus sits.

I recognize some of them. They were famous on Earth. They were big-time preachers and pastors. They were powerful in church circles and in politics. They sought and attained the limelight. They appeared on talk shows and news broadcasts. They are shaking each other’s hands, slapping each other’s backs, and telling each other how much they’re looking forward to receiving their reward for all the ways they served the kingdom of God.

If I concentrate real hard, I can see another group. They are milling about way down the line of tables. It’s hard to calculate, but they seem to be somewhere between a million and a billion tables away. I recognize a few of them. One was a lady I knew who spent much time visiting shut-in and sick folks and never telling anyone about it. One was a social worker who worked in anonymity with hurting families. Another was a pastor who served the same small church in the same small community for forty years.

Jesus rises from his seat. He lifts his hands. He says, loudly and clearly, “Come to the head table…” The group milling about near the table lift their heads and smile, ready to approach their rightful place. As they begin to move toward the chairs behind the head table, Jesus motions to them to stop. He then completes his invitation: “…my sisters and brothers who spent your lives in humble service.”

The group of well-known and powerful leaders stop in their tracks, stunned and astonished looks on their faces. I look at the group standing far down the rows of tables.  They look at each other. They look around. They wonder what people Jesus is summoning.

Jesus smiles. “You,” he says to the faraway group. “I’m talking to you. Come, take your places at my table.”

The group that has been milling about the head table began to walk slowly down the line of tables. They occasionally look back toward Jesus. When they do, he motions for them to keep walking. “Down toward the end,” he calls to them.

Standing far away from the head table, I find myself smiling. Then I wonder which way I should walk to find my seat…

Discussion

  • Why does Jesus address these words “to the crowds and to his disciples” (v. 1)?
  • What warnings does the lesson text hold for Christian leaders, preachers, and teachers? For all Christians?
  • Why do you think Jesus warns against seeking public acclaim and admiration for supposed piety?
  • Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (v. 11). Is it possible to serve others but still be guilty of a lack of humility? Why do you say that?
  • How can we appropriately humble ourselves? What might appropriate humility look like?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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