The Gospel of Quiet Quitting

The Parable of the Banquet and refusing the play the game

The Gospel of Quiet Quitting
Image by Nithya.

A reflection on Luke 14:1,7–14

“But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.”

I don’t get invited to many dinner parties—certainly not formal sit-down-at-a-table type dinner parties.

I grew up in a land of potluck dinners, corn roasts, and maybe even a couple of bush parties when I was in high school. My wedding reception was a caleigh in the church basement. These social gatherings are inherently more egalitarian in nature than the party Jesus is describing here.

Honestly, the party in this parable doesn’t sound like much fun at all.

First of all, the host is the worst. Part of a host’s job is to make their guests’ experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. If there are supposed “seats of honour”, it seems like the whole issue of who sits where could be quickly solved with some cheap Avery-template name cards.

The host, in short, is not setting his guests up for success. He is not protecting them from embarrassment.

And so I wonder, “why?”

Why wouldn’t the host just let everybody know where they were to sit and save everybody the trouble of trying to figure out amongst themselves how they rank, how important they are, who is the greatest and who is the least among them.


Unless, of course, the host somehow enjoys the confusion and ruckus. Unless, perhaps, their own power and status is somehow supported by those around them attempting to assume the seats of honour. “Look at how all my guests scramble to have the best seats at my party. I am, indeed, a Big Important Person.”

I’m a big proponent for biblical exegesis and understanding the time and political context scripture emerges from. In this case, it is important to srt through how status often correlates to security and safety. It is also important to know about the role of these kinds of parties played in Jesus’ time.

In fact, these parties were so integral to the social fabric that I can sympathize with Jesus creating an instruction manual on how to more faithfully navigate the established social protocol, rather than simply destroying the protocol itself.

Jesus doesn’t say, “just sit wherever you want”. There’s still a place. There’s still an order. There are still expectations. “It’s just the way things are done here” we might hear a party goer say.

Nevertheless, Jesus suggests that when entering the party, one should humble themselves, taking the lowest seat, refusing to make a play for status and power.


It is hard not to get caught up in valuing what the world tells us to, isn’t it?

The hustle for accomplishment and status is just as relevant now as it was in 1st Century Palestine. In the early 2000s, when I briefly found myself navigating the complex mysteries of the music industry, it quickly became clear that “making it” was more about being in the right places and associating with the right people than it was about dedication, skill and talent. You needed the skill and the talent, certainly, but they weren’t going to get you anywhere unless you were willing to go to the industry parties, and associate with important people who were going to help you. Just knowing where to be in and of itself was a hustle.

We see this everywhere. There is so much emphasis on work and long hours—even the commodification of our hobbies—that it sometimes feels like any time not spent working is wasted.

For years, many (not all, but many) large, corporate employers have insisted on long hours for no additional compensation, with the promise that going “above and beyond” would lead to promotions, increased financial compensation, as well as increased status and importance. There was a promise that if you were loyal to the company, they would be loyal to you—the proverbial corner office being the corporate equivalent to the seat of honour at the dinner table.

Except, for a lot of people, these promises haven’t been fulfilled. Wages have not kept up with inflation. They certainly haven’t kept up with the costs of housing. Research as well as anecdotal evidence suggests that employees’ work-life balances are suffering while compensation and career advancement are stagnating. For many people, they are working more, but receiving less. And when GenXers, Millennials and GenZs can’t afford to buy a home, they are told to stop eating avocado toast and start a side hustle: work harder for one of our society’s markers of success and maturity, but one that is becoming all but unattainable in many areas of the country.

It feels like the rules have changed, but we’re still being measured by the old set that are no longer relevant. We’re still scrambling for the place of honour and status (which we hope will mean security and safety) but the host isn’t being clear. Quite frankly, it’s like they’ve implied everybody could get the best seat if only they tried hard enough or if they went “above and beyond”, but the seat has secretly been promised to somebody else before the party even started.

The guests have been lied to.

I mentioned earlier that what I really want is for Jesus to have a whole, “burn it all down” kind of moment. To refuse to play this game and not even show up at the dinner party. If we’re all going to be sorted and categorized, I want to hear Jesus tell us to simply…not show up.

But, unsurprisingly, Jesus knows better than I do.

This story is presented as a parable, so I imagine Jesus is speaking in metaphor. However, he is at a very real dinner party, with very real people who are guests of one of the Pharisees. We read that they are watching him closely. Imagine if Jesus had said, “dinner parties like this are the pits! Try a corn roast next time. That’s where the real fun is at.” In addition to being really insulting, it would also be dangerous. It wouldn’t be an action that those present at the party could take without great risk to their safety and security.

Sitting at the seat of least honour is unusual, but not so out there that one is put in danger.

Sitting in the lowest seat is not a manipulative play to see if the host will actually ask you to sit in a higher position. It’s also not an act of self-deprecation.

It’s a quiet protest.

It is a protest that says, “I have no interest in playing this game. I have no interest in participating in a practice that secures my own status at the expense of somebody else.”

Not only does choosing the last seat prevent one from being sent lower than where they started, it also means nobody else is displaced for the benefit of others.

Possibly, it even causes a little bit of embarassment for the host. If somebody isn’t falling over themselves to be in proximity to power, is the host really that powerful to begin with?

I spend a lot of time online and on social media. One of the trending topics over the past few months is something called Quiet Quitting.

Quiet Quitting describes the process of doing only the work your contract obligates you to do. If you are paid for the hours of 9–5, you clock out a 5pm and don’t look at your email again until the next day.

It’s not really a new concept. Different terms describe the same action, but in different contexts. Unions will sometimes use the phrase “work to rule” when the action is used as a bargaining tactic. “Acting your Wage” is another expression floating around. But Quiet Quitting, is the protest of not putting in any extra work or time without additional compensation. It is a direct response to the belief that for those employed by large employers, going “above and beyond” has only ever helped those at the top. These are the people already sitting in the place of honour at the table.

During the pandemic, many workers have started to reevaluate their priorities and their values. They nave decided that they can no longer endorse a system that expects loyalty from employees, but not employers. That ask workers to give up so much of their lives, but not follow through on their end of this bargain.

So, we have Quiet Quitting. I would prefer to call it, “setting healthy boundaries”, but I don’t make up the memes. I only tell you about them.

It’s not about slacking off. It’s about doing good work in the time that you’re paid for, and pushing back against a system that has exploited those at the bottom of the corporate ladder. It’s about rejecting the idea that burnout and free labour “is just the way it’s done around here.” It’s about workers individually and collectively saying, “I refuse to play this game.”

As I was reflecting on this passage, it occurred to me that Jesus’ suggestion to sit at the lowest seat is a call for quiet protest not so unlike Quiet Quitting. It’s not saying, “don’t ever attend a fancy dinner party.” Workers are not, en masse, refusing to work for “the man”. They are attempting to quietly subvert the system from within the system.

Rejecting the values of power and status is difficult. There are times when it can really cost something.

But one thing that Jesus makes pretty clear in this story: God does not value what the world values. This is something that comes up in scripture over and over and over again. Integrity and care for our neighbours is far more important and valuable than the hustle for getting to the “top”. I say this just as much as a reminder to myself as to all of you.

God doesn’t value what the world values.

It was true during the Roman Empire, and I’m pretty sure it’s true now.

God’s justice is not the world’s justice.

Here’s to sitting at the lowest seat.

A version of this article was originally presented as a sermon, offered during Sunday worship on Sunday, August 31, 2022 [Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost Year C, Proper 17 (22)] at Jubilee United Church in Toronto.

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