As I look back on this time of year, I can easily sum up the holiday seasons of my childhood in two words: food and tables!
The round wooden table where so many holiday meals took place was set with a draped cloth, china plates stacked at each place setting, topped with cloth napkins tucked into rings, and forks on one side of the plates and knives on the other. The food was grand in nearly every sense of the word. The ingredients were rich, the portions were large, and the gravy ran for days over variations of meat and potatoes.
I, however, did not sit at that table during the holidays.
As a kid, I knew my place, and it was in the corner where other kids and cousins my age would sit around a folding card table set with paper plates and napkins and those pesky plastic folks that broke off in the tougher portions of the meat reserved for the “kids’ table.”
No, the round table, adorned with the colors of the season, wasn’t for me or anyone else my size. It was reserved for those more important than me – the adults!
Whether in a school’s lunch room, a corporate office’s board room, or a house’s dining room, tables have this way of being universally exclusive, and it seems this principle is as old as the advent of the table itself.
In Luke 14, a section of Scripture that contains one table scene and three table stories – all within a matter of a few lines, Jesus begins to confront the places and the practices of when folks gather around the table. In the first story Jesus challenges where the guests choose to sit – encouraging them to take their seats in the “lower” places (think the equivalent to kid’s table over in the corner – less honorable and further removed from the host). In the second story he challenges the hosts on who they invite – encouraging them not to fill their tables with people who are like them, but to instead fill it with those who “cannot pay you back.”
The air around the table must be thick at this point. A guest at the dinner party – either out of sheer enthusiasm or nervous energy over the perceived silence says, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God!”
YES! Blessed, indeed, is the one who sits and eats at the feast in the Kingdom of God, but the question isn’t about whether or not one will be blessed by sitting and eating – of course they will – but rather who will be invited to sit and eat.
In each story, Jesus challenges the life-long religious leaders of his day. He challenges those who believe it is their right to sit at the table and enjoy the food set before them and then challenges their notion of who is to be honored and who is not, before concluding, in a rather scandalous manner, that those who believe they are entitled to sit and eat may in fact miss out on the great banquet altogether, while those who were not first invited eat all of their food in God’s gracious presence.
This leads us to the question we, as the life-long religious leaders of our day, must in turn ask:
“Will we be content to take or to fill the seats at our table with mostly life-long religious folks, while a group of uninvited disparates go about their business unaware that a table of such grace and hospitably even exists??” Or asked differently, “Who will we allow to sit and eat with us in anticipation of the great feast in God’s kingdom?”
This, sitting at the table, is to be the evangelistic impulse of the Church. This is Luke’s offering of a “great commission” to his audience, that such good news is to be shared with those who have no idea that God intends to share a table with them. Such an impulse drives us toward those in the corners of our cities, to the byways and beaten down paths in our communities, and perhaps even into the margins of our own church buildings to give up our place at the table in order to share the Good News that such a one is invited to pull up close to God’s table, alongside Jesus himself, and to no longer gaze upon God’s grace from a distance!
Of course, when we give up our seat in order to invite others to the table, then we might just realize that Jesus intends to scoot over and give us a seat at the table too.
So, here is the good news for this kid who grew up eating in the corner and sometimes even in another room: There are no kids’ tables in God’s Kingdom with their flimsy tableware, smaller portions, and cheap decorations. In the kingdom of God there is only one table – and it is God’s!