"When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor." - Luke 14:8
I worked at a restaurant a famous television actor loved. Every time he made a reservation the cooks picked out the day’s best steak. The bartender pulled a second bottle of his favorite Scotch. Table number one was set aside.
And then, two hundred diners, waiters, drinkers all leaning in, eager to be seen by a TV star.
Celebrity tells those who have achieved it that they matter. It’s why we want to get close to power. It’s why we ignore the outcasts and the failures.
The last time I saw the actor he devoured our attention as he pretended to ignore it. He ate and told crude jokes and drank enough liquor to float a small boat.
It was a hot night. He was blurry eyed. He looked sad and red and heavy. We all did. A sweaty, drunken congregation, star-struck, depressed, each member hungry for some glory, all of us looking in the wrong direction.
The moment was broken by sounds from the kitchen. The Prince song "U Got the Look" blaring out of a tinny boom-box and unhinged, outrageous laughter.
The dish dogs! How dare they intrude on the star’s meal! The manager glared. The dish room is for losers, chronic alcoholics, kids with no work experience. When I burst in to say "shut up," a college student named Roy was cracking up as a developmentally disabled teenager named Mike drenched him with a spray gun. Next to them an occasionally homeless dishwasher named Art was doubled over with laughter. Prince sang along. It was pure glee.
There was joy in the dishroom and false merriment outside it. There was unforced laughter in the dishroom and the thin reassurance of too much booze out on the floor. There was Jesus in the dishroom and nothing but his absence at the seat of honor.
Who knew? Christ did.
Dear Jesus, give us the wisdom to step toward the unlikely spots you call your own. Amen.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL.