Written by Mary Rearick Paul
From her column Dwelling with God
When my parents moved from their home to smaller living quarters, one of the things my mom decided not to keep was her “good china.” All my siblings were contacted about several items, and everyone passed on the dishes. But when it came time to give away stuff that was not claimed, I couldn’t let go of the dishes. I now have stored boxes of Franciscan Desert Rose china.
It wasn’t the china I couldn’t let go of, it was the meaning that was carried in each place setting. One of the strong memories I have growing up is our Sunday dinners. The table was set before we left for church, with enough settings for our immediate family and extra on the table in readiness for the unknown visitor to come.
I enjoyed the meals, but the real richness of the feast was in those who sat at the table. My parents would look about the church for anyone who was visiting, who might be alone, who didn’t seem to have a place to go. The Sunday table had space for new people and the time for exchanging stories and an enlarging sense of community. Our table time established relationships in a deeper way.
The importance of table fellowship would have been understood in the time of Jesus. The table was where relationships were affirmed, teaching occurred, and important decisions made. In the Gospels, Jesus is having meals with all sorts of people: the powerful and those without power in the system, rich and poor, seekers and testers, believers and doubters. The Gospel of Luke is especially filled with these table stories, some of which are found only there.
One such story—of the tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke 19—is filled with great details and nuances to discover. The specific detail I want to ruminate on is how Jesus invites himself over and, once at the table, becomes the host. Luke 19:5-6 says, “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.”
This shift happens again and again. Something powerful happens when people sit down with Jesus. The encounter with one who knows them completely, sees them, loves and values them, and is able to point them to the implications of salvation for them and their neighbor is an amazing gift.
This reminds me of the passage in Revelation 3:20 which is addressed to a church: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” To each of us Jesus says “I must stay at your house today.”
In Luke 7, we see this same pattern when Jesus is invited into the home of the Pharisee, and the woman wipes Jesus’ feet with her tears. Jesus establishes himself as the host when he confronts others and insists that she more than belongs at the table. Another table story (Emmaus Road) is found in Luke 24. The couple invites Jesus to stay for the night and in the breaking of the bread Jesus becomes the host. Whether it’s a table in Zacchaeus’s house, the metaphorical table of Rev 3:20, the house of a Pharisee, or the Emmaus Road travelers, it doesn’t matter who owns the table, when Jesus is present, he is the host.
The practice of saying a blessing before the meal includes a moment of thanks, but we are also asking Jesus to be the host of the gathering around the table. In this new year, may we find ourselves at tables with Jesus, and, in his presence, may we and any who join us experience a sense of being fully known in ways that both affirm the love of the one who sees us fully, our worth and value, and the grace that invites us into new ways of living.
Dr. Mary Rearick Paul, D.Min, is a minister and vice president of student life and formation at Point Loma Nazarene University.
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