The dinner table puts our theology to action seeing the kingdom of heaven echo and who we invite and fellowship with. We cannot miss the centrality of the kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ parables. All of his teaching pointed to the kingdom come and how we can experience it both then and now. The “then” is the unity we see of every nation tribe and tongue. Meals are the “now”; a practical response to “how do we seek unity in the church?”
Who are we inviting?
Jesus said “the Kingdom is like a banquet”…
In Luke 14 we find an illustration of the Kingdom of heaven as a shared meal in celebration. The context Jesus was preaching, he is at the home of a Pharisee. He is speaking to those who initially were invited to the banquet were those who already assumed they had a place at the table–Jesus after all, had come for the Jews. They were the first on the banquet list. They were ones who knew the law, kept the Sabbath, understood the Gospel. They were the ones who were in Church every Sunday (and probably Wednesday & a small group). They already had their invitation (their salvation) and they felt they deserved a seat– the place of honor at the table. But Jesus repositions the Gospel. He says that those who were first invited had no place at his table.
Instead, Jesus then begins to illustrate what “invitational” means. He makes the Gospel accessible to the neediest, the weakest and the downtrodden. The Jesus we see in the Gospel of Luke “is one who seeks to include not only those who had previously been excluded because of who they are – whose race or religion, gender or age had kept them on the outside – but those who were excluded because of what they had done.”1 Jesus demonstrates the Gospel he proclaims through the inclusion of table-fellowship
The table functioned as a way to designate a special relationship between the participants at the meal, and indeed the communal meal was frequently, in both the Jewish and the Graeco-Roman worlds, the central social activity that showed group identity and solidarity. Our idea of the table hasn’t changed too much over time. Think about how it feels to be a freshmen in the cafeteria— tables are a place of belonging. “Meals show who is included as part of the group, and who is excluded. Who is at the table and what goes on there can be profound, if unspoken, demonstrations of corporate identity.”1 Meal sharing today is still a practice of intimacy— sharing life and fellowship with one another. It’s a place of gathering, community, celebration and sorrow.
Restoring Unity: The Kingdom table as a daily invitation
Just as our ritual of meal-sharing hasn’t changed, sadly our idea of invitation hasn’t changed too much either. While this fellowship can start in our own home, it is also reflective of the Church. To restore unity we must ask the hard questions of “who isn’t here?” and then “why?” Who, from our programming, music, message or location doesn’t feel welcome? Whose voices are missing? When we look around, do we see a gathering more like those at the home of the Pharisee? Or the banquet that Jesus described as the Kingdom? When was the last time you sat by a homeless person at church? Or went out of your way to sit with a co-worker you didn’t know? If we are really to restore unity in the Church today we must start asking “who are we inviting to our table?”
Debra Broome states:
Jesus’ table-fellowship was an ‘acted parable’: by eating and drinking with outcasts and sinners, with women, and with those who would not normally have shared a table together (scribe, tax collector, fisherman and Zealot) he says that God shares life with them and they are to share life with one another.3
The meal shared in Luke is both an illustration and invitation for us to follow. When I read through this I can’t help but notice the power of a meal being a daily act. It’s an on-going continual demonstration of the way we should be united. This inclusivity is a challenge. It is in our daily testimony that we find starting points to unity on a larger scale. In order to move towards unity as the Church, we must first practice the incarnational Kingdom in small, meaningful and routine places, such as meals. Our daily actions and interactions with those who are different—seeking to build bridges across, gender, theology, socioeconomics and race build skills to help us move toward unity as a whole.
Who can you invite to the table? Who is missing? What are other small ways we can create pieces of unity so our whole Church can share a table?
1 Bang Cong Tran. Table Fellowship in Luke’s Gospel: An Author-Text-Reader-
2 Centred Approach. Theological Research Exchange network: Theses & Dissertations 2001, 66.
3 Karris, ibid. 58; Also Norman Perrin. Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus. SCM Press. London. 1967. 107