How the Hellenistic World & Present Day View the Table

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

These words were spoken in a time when the Jewish people were heavily influenced by the Hellenistic culture, which based a lot of importance on hierarchy and stratification within society.  The way the table was set up in that day revolved around the most important to the least important.  Those who could give to those who could not.   

Ben Witherington III in Making a Meal of It mentions how food categories encoded social events through degrees of hierarchy:  

  1. Inclusion
  2. Exclusion
  3. Boundaries
  4. Transactions across boundaries  


So what is Jesus saying? 

He rejects the idea of using meals to reinforce reciprocity cycles and suggests meals be more gracious and less self-serving.  Imagine how counter-culture he was in challenging the very idea of what is considered to be 'table fare.'  

I myself was challenged with this concept; because, what would Jesus say to me, to us?  How in our cultural context do we as Christians replicate the cultural norms of hospitality and bread breaking?  

How do we speak into a culture, not tear it down, but be kingdom driven instead?  How do we mirror after the King's Lovefeast?  How do we take what is good while leaving out that which is ostracizing?  

I believe we live in a day and age, where sustainability is good and valued.  How if you can talk the foodie talk, know that lingo, then clearly you are on the "A" list.  We can watch food competitions and see how food has clearly become something of an other thing.  Good food is more about elitism than together.  We are more worried about impressing our dinner guests with perfection than allowing vulnerability to let loose there. 

Jesus is more concerned that walls and boundaries are being set up.  He speaks time and again against human societal constraints, which inhibit someone seeking the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it's what enrages him at the temple.  

What if instead, we always set our table as those the Lord himself were coming?  What if that's what sharing the table looked like?  And then, when we say, "But Lord, when did I feed you?"  He responds, "When you fed that child who hasn't known nourishment in food and heart."  "When you took some of you grocery money to give it to that family who needed to eat."   "When you invited your neighbor over for dinner."

We live in such a time as this, where food is more than plentiful and people are literally & figuratively starving.  Why would we neglect in sharing our tables?  Why do I neglect in sharing my table?   

I leave you with this, 

May the blessing of God rest upon you,  
May his peace abide with you, 
May his presence illuminate your heart
Now and forevermore. 

--Sufi blessing (seventh century) 


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