These thoughts started a conversation that was had at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, January 15, 2017. The discussion was based upon a reading from Luke 7:31-36.
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the conversation in your home or small group. You can download it here.
Click here for the readers guide and outline for this series. It is based upon the book, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table.
It was around the table (at Dean’s Pizza after working late on a rental property) that I broke the news to my parents that I felt God calling me into ministry and not to carry on the family business. It was at the table in a dormitory kitchen at Andover Newton Theological Seminary that I first met my wife, Chandra. It was around the table, some two years later (at Union Oyster House), that Chandra and I celebrated with friends just minutes after proposing to her at the ice-rink on Frog Pond in Boston Common. It was around the table that my daughters learned to pray and sing the Amen. I have fond memories of gathering around the table.
What memories do you have of being around the dining room or kitchen table?
“The majority of US families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week. And even then our ‘dinners together’ are mostly in front of the TV.”
In an overworked culture like ours that prizes busyness as a sign of importance and success, there is nothing more counter-cultural than setting aside time to eat with other people. “60 years ago the average dinnertime was 90 minutes. Today it’s less than 12 minutes.”
It is a radical thing to eat with others—to set aside time to gather around a table, break bread, and eat with other people. It’s not only radical, it’s important for one’s social, psychological, and spiritual health.
In the context of a family—especially one with kids—eating together is really important.
The more often families eat together, the less likely the kids are to engage in risky health behaviors like smoking, drinking, or doing drugs, and the more likely they are to eat their veggies and delay having sex. Kids whose families eat together also do better in school and are less likely to suffer from mental disorders like depression and eating disorders. In addition, the more often a family eats together, the more positively, the children view their parents and the better the communication between children and parents.
The same might be said of adults: the more adults eat with other people, the less likely they are to engage in risky behavior. By eating with others, adults are reminded that they’re not alone. By being able to serve and participate in conversation, they’re lives become intertwined with others. They’re given a sense of purpose beyond themselves that keeps them grounded and hopeful of the future—if only looking forward to the next gathering around the table. “Food connects. It connects us with family. It turns strangers into friends.”
Food matters. Meals matter. Meals are full of significance. “Few acts are more expressive of companionship than the shared meal… Someone with whom we share food is likely to be our friend, or well on the way to becoming one.” The word “companion” comes from the Latin “cum” (“together”) and “panis” (“bread”).
The table is the place where we learn to live and share together. It’s where we make real friendships and form communities. It’s the place where values are formed and life is nourished.
Jesus spent a lot of time around the table.
Luke’s Gospel is full of stories of Jesus eating with people:
- In Luke 5 Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners at the home of Levi.
- In Luke 7 Jesus is anointed at the home of Simon the Pharisee during a meal.
- In Luke 9 Jesus feeds the five thousand.
- In Luke 10 Jesus eats in the home of Martha and Mary.
- In Luke 11 Jesus condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law at a meal.
- In Luke 14 Jesus is at a meal when he urges people to invite the poor to their meals rather than their friends.
- In Luke 19 Jesus invites himself to dinner with Zacchaeus.
- In Luke 22 we have the account of the Last Supper.
- In Luke 24 the risen Christ has a meal with the two disciples in Emmaus, and then later eats fish with the disciples in Jerusalem.
Robert Karris concludes: “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.”
Jesus knew the value of spending time with people at the table. It was the primary means through which he taught and lived into the Good News he proclaimed. Around the table is where Jesus’ first disciples learned to live the kingdom life. Its where they learned the values of the kingdom. And, its where they first experienced grace, community, and were propelled in mission.
Shared meals were important to Jesus. So important that being called “a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” was a title he never seemed to refute.
Would the outside world looking in, describe you in your practice of faith—your following after Jesus—as being “a glutton and drunkard, a friend to tax collectors and sinners”?
I have become more and more convinced that the renewal of our faith, and the revitalization of the church will be just as much dependent upon how we gather around the table, as it will with what we do in our hallowed buildings.
At the table, sitting together, facing each other, talking to each other—good food, good conversation, good laughs, good stories—we learn the good news of the God who eats good food with bad people. There is nothing else like it in the world. To bring back the vigor of Christianity, to reverse the church’s attrition rate, we must bring back the table. The most important thing anyone can do to strengthen our families and reproduce the faith in our kids is to bring back the table. The most important thing anyone can do to change our world for the better is to bring back the table—with Jesus seated at his rightful place.
Inviting people to the table—to share a meal, to share in conversation and enjoy one another’s company—is the way Jesus introduced and embodied the kingdom for his followers. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some of the meals Jesus ate, who he ate them with, and how in those meals we might find grace, community hope, mission, salvation, and promise.
I look forward to see you around the table.
 Leonard Sweet, From Tablet to Table: where community is found and identity is formed” (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), p10.
 Mary E. Pritchard, “The Death of the Family Meal: Does it still count as a family meal if we eat in the car?” PsychologyToday.com, September 26, 2013 <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/diet-is-4-letter-word/201309/the-death-the-family-meal> Accessed January 14, 2017.
 Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), p10.
 Chester, A Meal with Jesus, p9-10.
 Chester, A Meal with Jesus, p13.
 Sweet, From Tablet to Table, 18-19