“Table Talk” Luke for Lent Part 3

Luke 11:37-41; Luke 14:1-6, 21-24

Rev. Tasha Blackburn

March 4, 2018

I did not grow up in an era when parents felt they should be their child’s friend. My parents did not play with me much. I was expected to play on my own or with my siblings. Play was not the place for family interaction. The dinner table was. We had dinner together almost every night. We didn’t have any money—and it was the 70s—so our kitchen table was a recycled wagon wheel turned on its side with old barrels for seats. It wasn’t impressive but what I gained around that table was everything.

Each person would share the story of their day; they would share stories about their past; I received an education in the priorities of our household and in the purpose of my life. And it was fun too. To this day we have a running joke that you know it is the Hofmann dinner table when someone tells a gross story within moments of sitting down. When you think about it, that happened because the kitchen table was not only the place for teaching in my home, it was the place that said you had a place. No matter what the day had brought, you were home now and could be yourself. It was where we joked and bickered and prayed. Tables have a way of doing this for all of us. Including Jesus.

In the gospel of Luke Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal.[1] Luke has more references to banquets, eating, and tables than any other gospel. He tells us that Jesus is accused of eating and drinking too much, calling him a “glutton and a drunk”. Jesus tells 23 parables in this gospel and 15 of them involve food. This makes Luke unique. Unlike the other gospels, there is nothing more serious for Luke than eating at the table. He begins with it—newborn Jesus laid in a feed box—he shows Jesus is resurrected using it—that roadside lunch on the way to Emmaus—and he promises his Holy Spirit while doing it—in the beginning of Acts, the risen Jesus teaches them around a table.

In his day, eating was highly regulated with tons of unspoken codes and rules to follow. A standard dinner party included nine men. They would recline on three couches that were placed in “U” shape around the food. The three most honored guests reclined on the center couch. There were rituals to follow before you even sat down, including the hand washing that Jesus skips, which guests performed, not for sanitation’s sake, but because it was a religious custom. And highly structured rules continued throughout the meal including accepting the quality of wine your host picked out specifically for you, even as your neighbor accepted a glass of greater or lesser quality right in front of you. When the Bible says that Jesus accepted a dinner invitation from a Pharisee, this is what it involved.

If you read the many dining passages you find some common themes and they are these: 1. For Jesus, eating is an opportunity for revelation; 2. Eating is joyful; 3. Jesus is not a very good guest. Consider the first of these themes: eating as revelation. Think for a moment how many times Jesus uses table time to reveal something about himself. He uses the need of 5,000 hungry people to reveal God’s abundance in just a few fish and loaves of bread. He uses ordinary table talk after dinner to teach even learned Pharisees a thing or two about justice and purity. He takes a special meal and recreates it into a new sacrament that tells the world his purpose and role in this world. Jesus certainly believes that eating together around a table is a good place for revelation.

Second, he sees eating as joyful. He doesn’t want his disciples to fast. He wants them to feast and, when asked about this, he replies that his friends are enjoying the wedding party because they have the bridegroom with them now, so why would they hold back? He accepts dinner invitations all over town, with religious leaders and tax collectors alike so he can eat and drink and share fellowship with them. He is the one who wants us to live in celebration that what was lost is always being found so kill the fatted calf, it is time to rejoice. For Jesus, eating is a joyful experience.

Finally, Jesus is not a very good guest. He does not act like polite company when you invite him over. The Pharisees in our passages today quickly learned that. He does not follow the norms and he will not keep his conversation polite. He would not like those cross-stitched signs that hang in many kitchens saying, “Jesus is the unseen guest at our table.” No, he would not like that at all. He is not a good guest at your table or at any table because he is not the guest, he is the host.

Now we come to the main reason he is always eating and drinking and reclining at tables. Jesus is trying to teach us what heaven is like. In heaven, he is the host of the great banquet in God’s kingdom and whenever we let him host at our tables we get a sneak peek into that eternal realm. That is why tables are places of revelation. That is why they are places of joy. Because they are what heaven is like. One of the best biblical images we have of heaven is not clouds and gates and angel wings. One of the best images we have is of a table, spread with a feast, and Jesus has set a place for us. He is the host and we are the guest who is thrilled to have even been invited.

Let Luke’s gospel reshape your imagination. Start to see heaven more like a table and this will affect your everyday life. Here’s how: First, consider which parts of your life are most laden with rigidness and rules. For Jesus, it was these mealtimes. Where is it for you? Is it how you treat your children or even how you allow yourself to eat? Wherever that rigid place is, try to make that place and that time more joyful. We are called to lives of joy, lives of celebration so start to make that change in your most tightly wound place.

Second, look for God’s work and for the power of his presence in the most ordinary things. Heaven is not clouds, it is a table and every table can be a reminder to look for divinity in what is common. Over and over Jesus shows us that God works through bread and cup, through water and seeds to lead us to him. Don’t wait for the extraordinary but look at what is ordinary and ask how God is close to you in that.

Finally, when you see heaven as a table, let it remind you to live as a guest and not as a host. You do not show others hospitality with an eye toward how they will repay you. You do not base your actions on what your gut tells you or how you want to live your life but you base your actions on the host’s house rules. Even if you don’t like strangers, you care for them because, as a guest, you follow your host’s house rule. Even if you are no good at sharing—the spotlight or your possessions—you will share because you are the guest and those are the house rules.

Where there is rigidity, bring joy. When you look at the ordinary, see how God uses it. As you walk through this life, walk as a guest. These are the things we can learn and these are the ways we can live when we realize that heaven is a table. We are simply to respond with joy and gratitude knowing that he has set a place for us there. Jesus is waiting to teach us and host us here, at our tables now, and in heaven, that great table to come. Amen.

[1] On the tie between Jesus and eating in the Gospel of Luke, I am grateful for the work of Robert Karris who wrote Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel.