Sir Walter Scott wrote a long poem on the Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815. This extract is from near the end of the epic and is addressed to the Duke of Wellington, Commander of British forces. Scott justifies Wellington’s gallantry as always ‘for public weal’. He has a point when Napoleon’s imperial ambitions are considered. But as we shall see tomorrow, there was and still is another side to conflict; death, injury, bereavement, loss. Hardly Heaven’s decree.
For not a people’s just acclaim, Not the full hail of Europe’s fame, Thy Prince’s smiles, the State’s decree, The ducal rank, the gartered knee, Not these such pure delight afford As that, when hanging up thy sword, Well may’st thou think, “This honest steel Was ever drawn for public weal; And, such was rightful Heaven’s decree, Ne’er sheathed unless with victory!”
Jesus was on trial. People were watching him to see what kind of person he was. The irony is, of course, that he was also watching them. They were concerned about who occupied the coveted place of honour. The place of honour is literally, the first couch, at the highest kind of formal meal, a reclining feast. We are watching a social drama. The dining room was a theatre. The closer to your host, the more important you were. Place at dinner showed position in society.
We have seen enough humiliated politicians being carted off to prison whilst all their former friends who have eaten their bread, drunk their wine, done their favours and benefited from their patronage, go to ground and refuse to know them anymore. The highest place can be quickly changed for the lowest place and there is no shortage of gloating onlookers happy to say ‘I always knew this would happen’.
The dining room is a microcosm of the world, reflecting the accepted order in it. For the host the occasion was a mirror in which he could see his own power and privilege reflected. He was at the centre, this artificial world turned on the host who called it into being. Wanting recognition and the trappings of fame is actually a failure in proper self-love and self-worth. The banqueters look at the gathering in order to see themselves reflected in the esteem and acceptance of the others. They are looking for their own true image, but the true image of humanity is there with them. Here is what is to be truly human: Jesus. They are watching him but they cannot see him, because they are too taken up with what people will think.