But when you are invited go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. — Luke 14:10
The movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler is based on a true story played out during turbulent times of great change in America. It reminds us of Jesus’ powerful teachings about life and good manners.
The Butler reminds us, through the use of Christian principles, that we too can rise from low stations in life to high stations and receive the best things, if we remain humble and open to serving.
The concern of the butler on whom the movie is based was always about setting the master’s table. There was always a table spread before him. And there is also a table spread before us. It is called the Communion Table and when we partake of it, Christ our Master asks us to watch our manners.
In Luke 14:8-14, Jesus teaches us table manners. He gives examples of actions and profitable discourse at the dinner table, whether in the company of family or friends or enemies. In our common actions, Christ watches what we do, at home, at work and, yes, even at our dinner table.
Though there was always at least one wicked person at the table with Jesus, He never kept silent before them. Nor was He ill-tempered, angry or hostile. But he always took time to use each occasion to speak of God’s goodness and grace.
In Luke 14:9, He stressed watching where you sit. When we enter a room, we are to take the seat of humility, because choosing the best seat without invitation can cause great embarrassment if we are asked to move.
The butler of the movie taught his son to check his high thoughts of himself. Christ teaches we are to remember, no matter how much we think of ourselves, that there is always one more honorable than we. Normally, before any honor can come into our lives, there must first be some sense of humility.
Instead of spreading a table for just the rich, we are to spread a competent table of plain and wholesome food for the poor and maimed. And, when they come, we are to give them a seat of prominence. Too often they get little honor and have little to eat and are unable to get work (Luke 13: 12-13).
The movie reminded me that the table spread before us is to remind us of proper manners at Christ’s table. At the Last Supper,Jesus taught the meaning of the bread (His Body) and the significance of the wine (His Blood).
The table spread before us is a new doctrine; its objective is to bring peace and show charity by teaching the rich and furnishing food for the poor. Then the poor will leave the table thanking and praying for the rich. The rich will leave fulfilled, praising God for being able to help. And peace will result when both the rich and the poor depart thanking God for each other.
The table spread before us is the place where Christ broke bread and made a new covenant, saying His body would be broken for all and, after His death, He would be resurrected. We were assured He would rise again for the righteous and that there would someday be a state of justice.
Finally, at the table spread before us, Christ gave us a new testament sealed in His Blood. The new testament is about charity. While our charity may not be rewarded in this world, the things of this world are not always the best and God doesn’t always repay the best in men with things of this world.
We saw this point, too, in the movie The Butler, when, towards the end, Mrs. Nancy Regan invites Mr. Gaines and his wife to a White House dinner party. After 20 years of waiting tables, the waiter, the butler, was waited on. Instead of being proud of the moment when so many gave him a special place, he was not and he said, “Somehow I was never the same,” because he knew his life’s calling was to give special place to others.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or firstname.lastname@example.org