-Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed
While teaching through the Jesus Creed in our high school Sunday school class this year, I came to chapter 4, "The Jesus Creed as A Table." The quote above stuck. As in Jesus' day, tables can be unifying and dividing; tables can be places of wonderful inclusion and/or intensional exclusion. Tables, it turns out, have a lot to say.
Two examples with which most of us can relate. We are in the holiday season. Starbucks reminds me of this fact as I order my Thanksgiving Blend coffee which is placed in a Christmas cup. The holidays are full of tables. Eating is a big deal during the holidays. Who is usually invited and present at your holiday table? Who is absent? Tables communicate who's in and who's out, who's welcome and who's not. If you need further proof, check out a school cafeteria during lunch. Here, maybe more than any other place in our society, can one see the truth of the statement above, "Tables can create societies; tables can also divide societies." It can be really ugly in the school lunch room! Tables have a lot to say.
Jesus talks about tables. In Luke 14, he teaches about tables, and his teachings here are among those that I'm convinced we've ignored. The setting: Jesus is eating dinner in the home of a Pharisee. A man is present who has an "abnormal swelling." It appears as though the man has been placed at the table to see whether Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath; thus, breaking the law. Jesus, being Jesus, heals the man and sends him on his way. Case closed. Jesus is a law breaker. But then he notices how people are seated at this particular table, so he tells a parable:
"When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”Then Jesus continues teaching, and this is the part that I believe we have specifically ignored. I know I have. Jesus says,
"Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”Two things stick out: 1) The table is a place where Jesus heals, in both a physical and spiritual sense. 2) The table is a place that, according to Jesus, should point us forward, to a future hope. Tables are our opportunity to be humble that others might be exalted. Tables are a place where healing can happen as those who were previously excluded, on the margins of society, are included and loved.
But honestly, have you ever taken this teaching seriously? Can someone please explain this away for me so that I don't have to be uncomfortable at my table?
After talking about the awkwardness of the school cafeteria, I asked the students whether they'd consider doing this very thing at school in the coming weeks. Instead of sitting with friends, acquaintances, their "crew," consider starting a new table, a place where everyone is welcome. My challenge was received by blank stares, dead silence, and a few excuses as to why this just isn't possible.
Think about the tables in your life. Tables at which you are invited to sit, and tables where you create the guest list. It could be the table in your home; the table at church dinners; the coffee shop; the family function. Where do you sit? Who is there? Who is missing? Are we taking Jesus' words seriously, or have we largely explained them away because they are uncomfortable and hard to put into practice?
In my last post I asked, "How should we love?" If we truly see those around us and want to affirm them for the good creations, the "Totes Tov" creations that they are, can we at the least have a meal with them? Can we at the least sit around a table and hear their stories?
Jesus himself is our model for how we do tables. Jesus ate with both tax collectors and holy rollers. Just before his death, Jesus gathered his followers at a table and instructed them to table together in order to remember and to celebrate his sacrifice for us in the breaking of the bread and pouring of the cup. Have we forgotten the importance of tables? Have we become too insulated, isolated, and judgmental? Let us examine our tables. Let us take a close look at who is present and who is absent; who is included and who is excluded. May our tables look more like the tables at which Jesus sat, and may our tables be influenced more by our hope in the heavenly feast than our present worry over social status.