Who is Around Our Tables?

Last night we had friends over for thanksgiving, and it was a wonderful evening of food and conversation. We made the turkey and veges and they brought pie. Actually, they made three pies! Chocolate cream, apple, and pumpkin! Needless to say, I think we all had more than enough to eat.

Here’s the thing: I love having people around our dining room table. If I had my way, we’d have a much larger dining room and a much larger dining room table, one we could cover with plenty of culinary delights and surround with animated, enjoyable, maybe even serious conversation, the sort that resonates deeply with who we are as human beings. Suffice it to say, there’s something uniquely intangible and beautiful about table fellowship. The preparation may seem like a lot of work, but it’s always worth it. More than worth it.

The Bible affirms and teaches the importance of table fellowship. Think about Jesus. He was always going to peoples’ homes, sitting around the table eating and drinking. And, I imagine, laughing and having a grand ol’ time! He was even accused by critics of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). The religiously stuffy and arrogant chided him for sharing meals with the riff-raff of his day, people otherwise unacceptable in respectable company.

In the culture of Jesus’ day, table fellowship was a sign of hospitality, acceptance, and friendship. Who you sat and ate with could be a matter of controversy. Take, for example, these words of Paul:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned.For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14

Cephas here is also known as Peter, one of the more prominent of Jesus’ disciples. Having already been shown by God that the gospel is also for the Gentiles (non-Jews) (see Acts 10), Peter later separates himself from the very people God had told him to accept. He did so under pressure from people who were falsely teaching that Gentile converts had to be circumcised and obey the entire Law in order to be genuine followers of Jesus. Rather than enjoying a meal with his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ, Peter caves into fear. Paul openly rebukes him, seeing that the very nature of the gospel is at stake in Peter’s actions.

And all of this over who is sitting around the dinner table.

Who are we inviting to sit around our table? With whom are we breaking bread?

When I consider the state of our world, and especially the state of political and cultural discourse, I can’t help but think sometimes that there are people who just need to sit at the same table together. Break bread. Enjoy a cup of coffee or glass of wine. Rather than having a leadership debate before an election, maybe require the candidates to show hospitality to one another. Maybe if such leaders, who are at least in part called to model political discourse to the rest of us, could look one another in the eyes without the glare of TV cameras and a tight script to follow, they would be able to see one another’s humanity and find their way towards genuine compromise.

Jesus, of course, broke bread and shared wine on the night before going to the cross. It was around the Passover table that Jesus instituted what Christians observe as Communion or the Last Supper. Jesus ate and drank with his disciples, most of whom would desert him, one who would deny him, and one who would betray him. Hardly perfect company.

Having people around our tables means extending to others the grace of God. Hospitality is an act of love. It’s a gesture of peace. Gathering around a table to share food and have conversation demonstrates a willingness to see past differences and to become open to the other, rather than see them as a label to be easily dismissed. Every meal is a parable pointing to the reality of the kingdom of God. Feasting is a prominent image for the world to come, the new heavens and new earth. One day we will dine with the king of kings. And having people around our tables now points to a future reality we can joyfully anticipate.

So who is around your table these days? Who needs to be?

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