Someone asked me not long ago why hospitality always seemed to be centered around a table. If biblical hospitality isn’t focused on entertaining or appearance, then what makes hospitality different than just being friends with people? What is the connection between the table and hospitality?
The answer, as with most questions, is found in Jesus. Luke 7:34 states, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Emphasis mine). I first noticed this when reading Jen Schmidt’s book Just Open the Door.
“Jesus came “eating and drinking” and it blew people’s minds. That’s because when He sat down to eat, there was a lot more going on that just the savoring of fresh fish hot off the grill, a loaf of bread and a cool drink.”
I’d read this verse before, but when I read those sentences from Jen in correlation to the verse it “clicked” in a new way! Think about Zacchaeus, Mary & Martha, Matthew the tax collector, and the men on the road to Emmaus to name just a few. Life change occurred through Jesus eating meals with these men and women. In his day, Jesus was quite the celebrity. Even those who didn’t believe his message of truth and salvation were drawn to him for the charisma and nuance of this Man performing miracles and drawing crowds. Yet Jesus still took the time to sit at the table and actually form relationships with others.
More nights than I care to admit, we don’t eat dinner at the dining room table as a family. With a 6 & 2 year old trying to navigate actual conversations between saying “No you can’t be excused yet” or “No! Don’t fling your food” is not a feat my husband or I are thrilled to attempt most nights. However, we know there is value to the dinner table. We are slowly pushing our kiddos to sit at the table for just a few more minutes or answer just one more question before you leave the table. “Forced” time together without the interruption of television or phones results in more laughter, more conversations, and deeper relationships for our family.
If biblical hospitality is all about loving others well and with intentionality with the goal of drawing them closer to Jesus, then what better way than with a common location? The table is where we can sit across from one another and look at each other in the eyes. The table is where we can set down the distractions of this world and tune out everything but the conversation at hand…even if it’s simply playing “would you rather” with your 6 year old.
I love a movie night or girls shopping trip. I enjoy doing things with others. We can hang out with our friends and go to concerts, on shopping trips, or even to a retreat or conference together. However, when I sit down to a meal with someone, we seem to address more meaningful conversations than occur in other circumstances. The table is an unassuming unifier. The table draws us together. And when we are together with no distractions we are more prone to cut to the quick and be vulnerable with one another. When I need a good “heart to heart” with a girlfriend, we go out for coffee and chat for hours. When I go visit one of my friends from out of town, we typically meet up for a meal and spend time talking about what has been happening in our lives.
One last thing to note, is when Jesus came eating and drinking it was most often spent with blatant sinners and the “least of these.” It threw off the Pharisees who never associated with those who were unclean. Who was this Man who associated with the outcasts of society?
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Matthew 9:10-13]
There is nothing magical about a dinner table, but it is the example set by Jesus. When we gather at the table, don’t reserve it for your closest and dearest friends. Sit at the table with people who look nothing like you. Sit at the table with the broken, the hurting, and the ones society (or the church) has rejected. The table is about doing life together. It is about being honest and vulnerable without distractions. It’s not about how the table looks or how delicious the food may be. It’s about the conversations that come from meeting together with intentionality and love.