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Jesus at the Table

In Faith Church’s current sermon series, “At the Table”, a couple of passages we’ve looked at are from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus having meals with people and often teaching at a table is a key theme in this gospel and in fact, many of these stories are found only in the Gospel of Luke. This has led to studies on the topic such as David Moessner’s book titled Lord of the Banquet. Space on a blog doesn’t allow a dissertation-length study of a topic, but I thought I would point out some of these passages and what lessons we might learn from them.

Meals in the Gospel of Luke

In Luke 5:27-32, after Jesus calls Levi the tax collector to follow him, we see Jesus at a table and teaching that he has come not to call the righteous but rather sinners. In 7:36-50, Jesus has dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house and a sinful woman washes Jesus’s feet at the outrage at the Pharisees who are eating with Jesus. This occasion becomes a place for Jesus to talk about forgiveness and how the woman’s lavish act was tied to her great love for him because of her recognition of his forgiveness. The only miracle (outside of the resurrection/empty tomb) in all four gospels is the feeding of the 5,000, and Luke records it in 9:10-17. A meal is not explicitly noted in Luke 10:38-42, but it seems implied when Jesus is at the home of Mary and Martha and Martha is busy serving while Mary is at the feet of Jesus, learning from him.

While we often think of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners in Luke, we see him once again dining with Pharisees in Luke 11:37-52, as a Pharisee invited Jesus to his house. Jesus uses this platform to challenge the Pharisees to not only pay attention to outward deeds, but to make sure that their inward hearts were right towards God (this is a key occasion in which they start to become even more strongly against Jesus). Jesus again dines with the Pharisees in Luke 14:1-24, and he uses this opportunity to do shocking things (healing on the Sabbath) and to teach about the importance of not inviting to dinner only those who can pay you back, but rather inviting the least and the lowly. He teaches about a meal and shows that the people at the wedding feast of the kingdom of God will not be the powerful but the “poor, crippled, lame, and poor.” The story of Zacchaeus in 19:1-10 is another story with an implied meal and one that involves tax collectors and sinners, as Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’s house (to the chagrin of the people of Jericho).

Luke records the Last Supper in 22:14-18, with unique elements being the inclusion of some key details of the Passover (including noting a couple of cups at the meal).  Jesus transitions from the elements establishing the Christian sacrament of communion to teaching, ranging from the prediction that one will betray him to the failure of the disciples as they were still pondering who was the greatest (22:24-28). He shows his provision again while also pointing to the disciples’ failure and need.

Meals don’t cease at the Last Supper, as in Luke 24:28-32 Jesus breaks bread with the disciples who were journeying to Emmaus. It is there that the disciples recognize who Jesus is; he is revealed at the table and in the elements of communion. Jesus also gives proof of his resurrection in Luke 24:36-43 through a meal (enjoying broiled fish in 24:43).

Lessons at the Table

Jesus’s teachings and the people he shared his meals with are key things that stand out as we look at these stories. Jesus eats with the tax collectors and sinners, but he also spends time at the table with Pharisees and the religious observant. He reaches out to both groups -- his truly is an inclusive table! He offers different teachings to the different groups, as the tax collectors and sinners need to hear that they matter and can be forgiven and have a place at the table, while the Pharisees need a wakeup call to make sure they are not self-righteous but living as people who care for others and God and not just following his rules and regulations. In some ways, the same principle appears at the house of Mary and Martha as Martha gets caught up in hospitality, which is good, but misses the point of the relationship with Jesus.

The Call to the Table

I think these stories can be challenges for us in a fast-food, eat at your desk, and eat on-the-go sort of culture. Jesus reveals himself to others at the table -- do we reveal who Jesus is by similarly inviting people of various backgrounds different to our tables and use these occasions to talk about truth and love? Are our tables places of evangelism and justice? May our tables be pictures of the kingdom of God and places where the kingdom of God is spread!

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