We were invited to dinner recently by a member of the Hispanic church we partner with here in Birmingham. The woman, somewhere in her 50s or 60s, lived alone. We knew her, somewhat. We knew some facts about her life and engaged in small talk every time we saw her. When we entered her home, however, and dined at her table we went from being acquaintances to confidants.
Whereas once we knew a few facts about her, now we knew her in relationship. Through her hospitality and meeting a basic need of ours — food — she confided in us events from her past and other personal matters. We saw the pictures her grandchildren had drawn hung on her walls. We saw mementos that sparked story after story about her personal journey. We heard about her trials and pain as well as some of her joys.
The next time we saw her at church, we exchanged hugs and smiles. We engaged in more meaningful conversation all because of a shared meal around her table.
This recent experience is nothing new. Earlier this year we had four unexpected house guests when Birmingham was paralyzed with snow and ice in January. We were transformed from strangers to friends as we shared dinner, breakfast and a roof over our heads. Back in the fall I blogged about a dinner experience we had with another family from the Hispanic church.
What are your table stories? Who have you gotten to know by simply sharing a meal with them? Have some of your best and deepest conversations come from around the dinner table?
My husband tells me that when he lived in Scotland while working on his PhD that if someone invited you over to their home for lunch after church it meant you spent the rest of the day with them. Lunch wasn’t an hourly event; rather you stayed through the afternoon reading, reflecting, going on walks and talking with each other. You would finally leave to go home around dusk.
For those living in the first century, table fellowship was a significant part of the culture. As Joel Green explains, table fellowship was practiced largely in the Second Temple period much in part by the Pharisees. At the same time, you also had the practice of what was called the “Greco-Roman symposium,” also known as a drinking-talking party, where there would be some kind of philosophical discourse. We find in Luke a series of table scenes that fuses these two traditions together. It is at the table where Jesus breaks societal and economic boundaries and eats with the most unlikely of people and then uses the table to teach about the kingdom of God. In both word (teaching) and deed (the sharing of the meal), Jesus communicates who he is and what his ministry is all about.
So as we approach Maundy Thursday, the day that we commemorate as Christians the Last Supper and the first event of the Passion week, I invite you to look at five table scenes in Luke with me. As we are invited to the table as readers and hearers of God’s Word, what are we to learn about Jesus, the kingdom of God and how we are to live and love others? Does loving others demand a pluralistic and postmodern understanding of faith? Does Jesus call us to follow a set of laws as a prerequisite for relationship? What does bread have to do with the kingdom of God?
Over the next several days we will consider these questions as we look at the following passages: the Calling of Levi (Luk 5:27-32), the Sinful Woman Forgiven (7:36-50), the Feeding of the 5,000 (9:10-17), the Last Supper (22:7-23), and the post-Resurrection Meals (24:28-49).
So pull up a chair to the table and let’s spend this next week dining with Jesus. What will he have to say to us?
Read the series: