By Jim Tune
God has a thing for tables, and many of us can understand why. The Scriptures are full of stories of people meeting around tables and of relationships being formed and strengthened in that space. We resonate with these experiences. In my own life, the best moments with family have taken place around the kitchen table, visiting or enjoying a meal.
The psalmist connected God with the table in a familiar passage: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5). Most of my experience with this psalm has been in the context of end-of-life pastoral care, offering a word of comfort for those grieving or those nearing death. Here we find encouragement to join not just God at the table, but also our enemies! What a picture—“God with us,” as well as “enemies” with us! The table is not just a place to consume food and enjoy company, but also a space where peacemaking and healing can occur.
Mark Moore has suggested that Jesus used meals as a means of disrupting social values and overturning normal standards of behavior and honor. Moore remarks, “Because he ate with all class of ‘sinners’ he offended the sensibilities of the religious elite.”
In the Gospels we see Jesus reclining at a meal table to build relationships with all kinds of people. Jesus was accused of eating with “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 5:30), but he used these times to demonstrate the restoring mission of God in the world. A prime example is how Jesus accepted the invitation of a religious leader to join him at the table, and while there forgave a woman whose sins were public knowledge (Luke 7:36-50). The Pharisees objected to this scandalous action, but there at the table Jesus created a place for both conversation and accountability. At the table the practices of love, worship, hospitality, and listening were demonstrated for all to see.
After taking a group of American Bible college students on a tour of a large Toronto-area mosque, the imam invited my wife and me to his home for dinner. He could barely conceal his delight when we accepted his invitation.
A delicious Asian meal was carefully prepared and served. It was obvious we were seated at a place of honor, and were, at all times, treated like esteemed guests. Our conversation was lively, occasionally punctuated by religious debate, but mostly centered around our families, our lives, and our different heritages. His face lit up with delight once again when I invited his family to join us at our home for a meal.
Though the results cannot be planned, the practice of meeting with others around a table can open us to some powerful, spontaneous spiritual experiences. When God wants to bring people together, he often sends them to a table.
Could it be that the table is not just a place of meeting, but also a place of mission? Maybe we need to develop a new “potluck” theology—one that welcomes strangers to us—and introduces us to unfamiliar foods and unfamiliar people. Jesus sits at the head of the table and offers grace to all.