Hearst insisted that all the guests should eat together, and not in front of the non-existent television, but at a huge dining table in the main house. As many as fifty guests were there at any one time. Hearst was expectant of vivacious dinner conversation and so he personally directed the assignment of place cards for those attending.
I’m confident that, at the great banquet of celebration on the day of the Second Coming, Jesus will have had plenty of time to arrange everything, including place cards.
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By Steve Hall
Today’s gospel reading reminds us that it is good to have assigned seats at a dinner party. Other than that it has a few things to say about humility. Humility is notåç a virtue than I find endearing so I’ll go back to assigned seating.
Several years ago Maura and I took a tour of the Hearst Castle close to the town of San Simeon in California. It was a huge estate with a beautiful ocean view setting. William Randolph Hearst was renown as the father of yellow journalism. He was also rich for the very same reason. His estate was set up with multiple guest houses, all elaborately furnished except for one thing — none had kitchens. Hearst insisted that all the guests should eat together, and not in front of the non-existent television, but at a huge dining table in the main house. As many as fifty guests were there at any one time. Most were celebrities in the day; and many — even most — stayed for weeks at a time.
Now, with so many guests Hearst was expectant of vivacious dinner conversation and so he personally directed the assignment of place cards for those attending. Hearst himself sat in the center of the supersized table. Guests were assigned their places according to how they had contributed to conversation at previous dinner gatherings. If Hearst found you contributed positively to a lively interchange regarding the gossip or events of the time, you were assigned a seat close to the center where he sat. If Hearst found you bland or even boring, you moved down the line and further from the host. Legend has it that at least one guest moved further and further from the center of the table at each successive dinner gathering. In the end he was assigned no seat at all. I hear he finally got the hint and left.
I’m sure that Hearst’s dinner custom was obvious to his guests. They couldn’t help but notice what was going on. The natural reaction, of course, would have been to prepare for dinner by considering what stimulating conversation you could offer.
I’m confident that, at the great banquet of celebration on the day of the Second Coming, Jesus will have had plenty of time to arrange everything, including place cards. I doubt that we might find ourselves without a place setting once we have part of one dinner celebration. But questions do remain regarding the initial seating assignments. There has got to be a large number of people who, over the centuries, have fed the hungry, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned. Obviously so many that other criterion will necessarily come into play when seats are assigned.
That being the case, it’s not unreasonable to think that criteria similar to that of Hearst could come into play. With such a possibility we have to carefully evaluate our spiritual conversations. We’ve each had a few years to develop our communication skills; and, quite possibly, more than another one or two to improve on what we have accomplished so far. Nevertheless, let’s visit the subject. I have a few suggestions.
1. It’s hard to get close to a constant complainer. We may feel sympathy or empathy, but true friendship is difficult. On the other hand, we welcome the person most commonly filled with joy and gratitude and would eagerly anticipate sharing a meal with such a one.
2. Repetition is the mother of boredom. Repeated stories, repeated jokes, repeated complaints repeated anything is tiring. I’m not sure how repeated prayers fit this scenario; but I’m quite sure that a bit of ordinary conversation (both talking and listening) would be a welcome addition. Anyone who would truly be your friend will welcoming hearing of the details in your life.
3. Just as the constant complainer is a boor, so too is the one who is as constantly effervescent as a newly opened soft drink. Everyone’s life has ups and downs. Everyone’s life has joys and sorrows. But if only the ‘ups’ or only the ‘downs’ are shared then something is wrong. Those who would be close to us want us to be close to them. It’s a one sided arrangement if we treat them as our psychiatrist or by omission treat them as untrustworthy of our sorrows.
4. Finally — and this is my brief list — silence can be deadly. We need to communicate for in doing so we share The who and the what that we are. It is a great blessing to be able to travel with someone over miles or over minutes and just be together. Constant chatter can have a negative impact on the enjoyment of another’s presence. But silence, with no giving of one’s self, that can be deadly for then it’s difficult to either give or receive.
Jesus has had or will have had all the time necessary to arrange for the Second Coming Banquet. He may have already ordered the choicest juicy meats and the finest of wines. It wouldn’t surprise me if the last part of these preparations involves assigning seats. So, just on the outside chance that he will want to sit closest to those with whom he has had the liveliest conversation, maybe we should sharpen our conversational skills now
The question is not really one of where should I sit but rather of where is my assigned seat.