Can you picture a time of warmth around a table from your youth? It doesn’t take me long. As a young boy we took trips to northeast Arkansas to see my grandparents. We’d make our way past Texarkana and start checking off the towns: Hope, then Prescott. We’d move on to Little Rock, Searcy, then on to Hoxie and Walnut Ridge. Once there we knew Pocahontas was near. The car would snake its way through the town square and out towards Attica. If you blinked, you’d miss it. The General Store was on the left side of the road. The Baptist Church on the other.
But then over a few more hills and we’d turn onto the gravel road on the left and up to Granny and Pop’s house. By the time Dad parked the car they’d be on the front porch ready for two little boys to come running for hugs.
We had lots of fun on their farm. We’d try to help Pop “slop the hogs.” We’d catch fireflies. We’d crank homemade ice cream and ride our pony. But if I had to picture a time of warmth around a table it would be there. When the food was ready we’d all gather around the table: Pop, Granny, Mom and Dad, me and my brother. Pop would say the prayer. And we’d enjoy the meal together.
The warmth came not so much from the meal itself but because we were together and I knew that these people loved me and I loved them. Even my older brother. I had to. Mom said so. We were family.
Meals should be important to us because they were important to Jesus. Some scholars have said that “Jesus ate his way through the gospels.” Sharing meals was a significant thing in Jesus’ culture. There were social boundary markers in the Jewish world. And one way those boundaries were kept intact was by who received invitations to a meal and who did not.
Jesus came along and upended the social boundaries. Sure, he ate with his closest friends. That goes without saying. You know that from scripture but if not, you at least would know that from Da Vinci’s The Last Supper in Milan.
But Jesus did not only eat with those who were on the same journey with him. Jesus shared meals with people who saw things differently than he did. In Luke 7 Jesus eats at a Pharisee’s house. Jesus is reclining at the table with him. We need to remember that there are times we need to sit down with people we may not totally agree with and offer them our friendship. We might even give them a glimpse of the Kingdom.
And Jesus shared meals with people who lived differently than he did. He was known to eat with tax collectors and sinners. “Tax collectors” were hated by their Jewish friends. “Sinners” was a catch-all term for people who were obviously wicked. Tax collectors would fit into this category. But so would criminals and prostitutes. They had no place to fit in regular society so they fit with each other. When Matthew starts following Jesus he invites him to his house for a meal. We’re told that “many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus…” They were comfortable being with Jesus. And Jesus was comfortable with them.
Jesus ate his way through the gospels. Sitting at table with others meant they were accepted. They belonged. Maybe we should eat our way to life. Start with your family. If you are used to eating in different shifts or in different places around the house, begin by eating together at the table.
Move from there to inviting someone over to your house for dinner. Think about your neighbors and friends. From time to time you may want to throw a party and have a larger circle of people over.
When you can, eat family style. Sharing a meal includes passing plates and caring for each other in that way too.
Remember, you don’t have to be a great conversationalist. But you can learn to be a great questioner. Ask questions. Ask about a person’s day. What was good? What was not so good? Hear their story.
It’s a cold world out there. But warmth can be found around a table. We’d better get used to it. I’m told there is a banquet awaiting us at the Father’s house.
Question: What are your favorite memories around a table?