God's Open House

Sunday, September 1, 2019

“The Table”

The Table is one of the central images of Jesus’ ministry and Christian faithfulness. Jesus spent most of his ministry sharing a table with people. Robert Karris says that “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.”[1]  In our story for today, he eats with the Pharisees, he eats with Zacchaeus, he eats with two on the road to Damascus, and of course he shared his most famous meal, the Last Supper, with his disciples. In between meals, he talked about them. In today’s passage, he’s doing both. While sharing a meal with some Pharisees, he talks about how to behave yourself at meals. The next thing he does is tell a parable about a banquet. It’s clear that when Jesus came down to earth, he had eating on his mind.

Table fellowship is at the heart of our ministry as well. There is a table at the heart of our worship space, and each week we share bread and juice from that table, remembering Christ’s friendship with us and our friendship with each other. But this is not the only table where we do ministry. We gather around tables downstairs when we drink coffee and share our lives with each other. We sit at tables when we give out lunches for our summer lunch program (which concluded today with 2400 meals passed out), and when we come together for Third Meal. We sit at each other’s tables in our lives with each other, sharing in joy and pain. Bobbi showed me a book in the library called “Most Ministers Wear Sneakers” which regular people do the most important ministry we do. Well I might add that most ministry has an element of table fellowship to it.

Sharing tables together is such an important part of Jesus’ ministry because it’s such an important part of our lives. Eating with someone is deeply ordinary and deeply intimate. And who you do it with matters. It matters at the lunchroom, it matters in the boardroom, it matters in every part of our lives. Because the people you eat with are the people you build your life around.

So when Jesus starts talking about eating, I think we get what he means. And in today’s passage, he gives us two things to think about. The first is for when we are at someone else’s table, and the second is for when we are setting our own tables. As for the first piece about being at someone else’s table, Jesus’s advice is pretty straightforward. I don’t think Jesus is really telling us anything we haven’t seen in our own lives. If you exalt yourself, you’re setting yourself up to get put down. If you’re the socially awkward kid walking into the school lunchroom, and you plop yourself down right in the middle of the cool kids’ table, what’s going to happen? Will you suddenly gain a ton of popularity? Or do you risk becoming the butt of their jokes? If you’re an outsider of a work clique, and you invite yourself to their lunch, are they likely to be welcoming or resentful? And even if you do get absorbed into in-group status, how will you know that you’re wanted? You will worry about how to stay on their good side, whether or not they really want you here, and whether everyone is laughing at you behind your back. You’ll never feel secure in your belonging. Instead, Jesus says to seat yourself humbly, and let yourself be exalted when other people can see your value. If you allow yourself to be invited into places where people want you, you don’t run the risk of being put down, and you can live confidently knowing that you are wanted.

The second word that Jesus gives us is for when we are setting our own tables. It’s the same principle as the advice he gives for when we are sitting at someone else’s table, but it’s a lot more ambitious. It’s about who you choose to set your table with. He says, not to use your table to exalt yourself and increase your power.

It can be easy to get into the mindset of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” It’s a hard economy out there, and if you want to have a job in a recession, networking is key. So you invite your boss and your friend who works at the white shoe law firm. But the truth is that who you set your table for is who you will shape your life around. If you build your life around powerful people, they will become the people whose interests you know best. You’ll worry about their worries, you’ll care about their comfort, you’ll express your solidarity when their power is threatened.

Ultimately, Jesus is telling us that who your share your table with is who you build your life around. And if you build your life around your own gain, exalting yourself up over others, you are inviting yourself into a life that is spiritually empty. But if you humble yourself, and use your power and influence to lift others up, you will find yourself spiritually rich.

Eating with white supremacists means excluding from the table all those people who white supremacists are trying to get killed.

Maybe the most famous artistic representation of Jesus at table is the Last Supper painted by Leonardo DaVinci. A while ago someone pointed out to me a bit of silliness in the picture. In order to get all the disciples in the shot, DaVinci paints them all on one side of the table. We can dismiss this as artistic license if we want. But maybe we can take a moment to imagine who else might have been seated at the other side of the table. Could it be Mary, Mary, Joanna and Salome, Matthias, and others who had been with Jesus from the beginning? Could Jesus have invited not only his disciples, but also those he told them to invite—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind?”

Better yet, maybe we could take a moment and ask ourselves, who is invited to our table? Who is missing from our table? Have we chosen people we expect will pay us back? Or have we instead tried to make our table a welcome table, in which all have a place to eat, regardless of what they can offer in return.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and martyr of the Holocaust, once said this: The table fellowship of Christians implies obligation. It is our daily bread that we eat, not my own. We share our bread…No one dares go hungry as long as another has bread, and he who breaks this fellowship of the physical life also breaks the fellowship of the Spirit.

In other words, no one can go hungry when we’re eating at the same table.

This is the image that Jesus gives us for what the kingdom will look like. And

Perhaps that’s why table is one of the central images of heaven for Christians – no one can have more or less when it’s all sitting on the same table. No one can go hungry, no one can be forgotten, no one alone.

There is a place for you at God’s table. OR Who you eat with is who you shape your world around.


[1] Lundblad, Barbara “Expanding the Table: Food Justice in a Hungry World” Keynote Address: Ecumenical Advocacy Days: April 5th, 2013. Texts: Exodus 6:16-18 and Luke 14:12-24.