Table Fellowship

Yesterday I enjoyed a great breakfast meeting with a close friend.  Three and a half hours sitting across a table and talking, and then only leaving because of an imposed deadline.

Today (I am pre-loading this on the site, by the way), we leave for a family holiday, after spending five great weeks visiting with people, we are really looking forward to being on our own for a few days.  We’ll get to swim, boat, play games, maybe even read books, but what am I really looking forward to?  Meals together as a family unit!

Here in the US there seems to be more fast food options than ever.  Sometimes it feels like food is either a pragmatic need, or an addictive obsession.  So is food really a merely pragmatic issue?  Or is it an idol?  Or is this just the world stripping the good out of something that in itself isn’t neutral, but wonderfully of God?

The great breakfast with my friend yesterday was not about the food, but the food helped.  It was about the relationship.  And as I chase the theme of table fellowship through Luke’s gospel, I see that reality.

Here’s a quick skim through the book (with chapter numbers in parentheses):  I’ll pick up the theme with Jesus refusing the devil’s invitation to make miracle bread (4).  Then we see Jesus feasting with a tax collector’s friends (5).  Refuse, or enjoy?

The refusal sub-theme moves forward with talk of fasting (6), we see Jesus at the table with a Pharisee fussing about hand-washing (11), and Jesus’ warning about their leaven (12).  Another time he’s with a ruler and heals a man with dropsy (14), leading into teaching about the marriage feast and great banquet – the undeserving brought in since the invited refused to attend (14).  The great party passage of Luke 15 concludes with a Pharisee-like older son refusing to come in to the feast (15).  The self-congratulating Pharisee in the temple celebrates his own fasting schedule (18).

The enjoyment of table fellowship builds too: the Pharisees meal with Jesus is interrupted by a sinful woman appreciating Him far more profoundly than the self-concerned host (7).  Jesus raises the synagogue ruler’s daughter and instructs them to give her food (8).  He feeds the multitude (9).  He visits friends, but underscores the importance of the fellowship with Him, as opposed to the feast, if the stress of preparation threatens relationships (10).  He teaches them to pray and includes food in the prayer (11).  After the feasting themes of chapters 12 and 14, Jesus’ three-part parable in 15 includes three parties, ending with the fattened calf party when the lost son is found (15).  In our culture it may be rude to invite yourself, but Jesus’ grace toward Zaccheus utterly transformed the man, and they enjoyed table fellowship together (19).

This is a big issue.  Jesus warns about building bigger barns to hoard food and believing feasting and fun is what life is about – that’s foolish! (12)  Instead, on the food issue, we should be looking not to ourselves, but to God (12), so that when the master comes for the feast, we are prepared (12).  Another rich man feasted sumptuously, but then was in torment in the flames (16).  Eating and drinking isn’t always good at all, they were unprepared in Noah’s day too, and will be so again (17).

If food is the focus, this seems to be profoundly problematic.  Rather the food should be a context in which our hearts are looking to heaven, and giving themselves away to others.  The ultimate focus of the book comes in the special feast Jesus prepared to eat with his disciples – the Passover (22).  He took giving yourself away to a whole new level!  Then to tie a bow on it all, when He met the two on the road on that unique Sunday, it was at a table that He was revealed to them, breaking bread (24) – which seems fitting after all the references along the way.

Let’s be careful not to buy into the culture’s lies about food.  Either that it is just a pragmatic need to be met as quickly as possible (and typically alone), or that it is an idol to worship.

Let’s instead hear God’s heart in the theme of table fellowship – a demonstration of His abundant creativity and generosity, a context in which to slow down and value those with whom we share it, an opportunity to give ourselves away while giving thanks to Him, and a glimpse to stir our hearts for the day when we will know what a feast really looks like, yet will only be able to gaze on Him!

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