There is an old Miller Lite commercial where Hall of Fame baseball announcer Bob Uecker, famous for self-deprecating humor, is being ushered out of his stadium box seats falsely believing that he is being invited to something better. He exclaims “I must be in the front row” as he is ushered to the far corner of the upper deck (Google it – it is far more clever than my description). Front row seats are a prized possession in so many venues – except Church! Why won’t anyone sit in the front row(s)?
This Sunday’s Gospel might give some the answer since Jesus tells the story of people invited to a dinner who are encouraged to sit in the back so that they can be invited up front rather than being unceremoniously ushered ala Uecker to the rear. If I believed that was at the heart of the matter for most, I’d be happy to see it. But I fear there is so much more to the choice of chair in church.
For some the matter is one of companionship – they want to sit near some specific others. For some it is a matter of comfort – they like to sit on the end for easy egress. For still others they like to spread out and therefore need empty seats around them. But for most, there is rarely the thought that what is up front is something that I want to get nearer. And that is the troubling thing about this dynamic. Are we afraid of getting too close to God, or are we leery of being too committed to the one who invited us? After all, the front rows are usually where we find the real hard core fans – willing to pay top dollar and excited to sing and dance with their favorite band. When was the last time you saw that response in Church (at least the latter since we don’t charge anything for any of the seats!)?
Is it simple enough to make a blanket judgement that picking the place where I will sit in Church is akin to my level of commitment to Christ? Certainly not. However, the more we reflect on what is really taking place at Mass, the more likely we are to want a good seat (and are willing to get there early to get it). Catholics, we have followed this gospel far too long (if that be possible). Jesus is inviting us all to come forward, humbled and unworthy as we are, to our seats in the front row. Enjoy something far greater than a good show!
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