Etiquette at the kingdom table
It’s difficult to resist the temptation to pig-out when my in-laws come to visit. My father-in-law is a maestro in the kitchen – a culinary Leonardo da Vinci with inventions so delicious it could even make the reserved Mona Lisa smack her lips. And what better way to enjoy great food than to do so with the people you love? The company of family and friends compliments a meal like a creamy white sauce with your pasta or a glass of red wine with your fillet steak. The July holidays are over, but the fond memories created around the dining room table will forever be stored in the photo album of my mind.
Together with the good times, there was also an unhappy picture that haunted me. The figure of ‘ghosts’ walking aimlessly along the dimly-lit streets of town. Their hungry faces, sunken eyes and thin bodies bracing the winter cold – all alone. I saw them when I drove to purchase firewood at the local garage. Or when I went to the express store to buy chocolates and ice-cream for dessert. They were not invited to the dinner table. No hospitality was shown to them. They were the homeless, the outcasts, the down-and-out with no hope for tomorrow. It made me realise: it’s not just about what you eat, it’s about whom you invite to your table.
These contrasting memories (my well-fed family versus the homeless people in town) reminded me of the parable of the prodigal son. How we are all outcasts until we come home to the good Father and partake of the feast that He has prepared for us. The church father, St. Augustine of Hippo talks about this moment in his Confessions of St. Augustine: 'Our heart is restless until it rests in you.’ Or to rephrase his words in a culinary context: ‘The heart is hungry until it eats the Bread of Life at God’s dinner table’. Now that my soul has become nourished, should I not become aware of the empty chair next to me?
Perhaps the problem in our society is that our definition of the term ‘family’ is too narrow. If I think of family I think of my immediate relatives, my parents and grandparents, my nieces and nephews, maybe even my friends at church, but not the people whom the good Host invites to the dinner table in Luke 14. In fact, the people on the fringes of society are not only invited to the table in the kingdom of God, but are made to be the guests of honour: The poor, blind, cripple and lame. Now that is what I call radical hospitality!
How does this type of inclusive, wide-ranging hospitality work? Some recent trouble with my motor vehicle forced me commute with a minibus taxi. After climbing onboard, I imagined the driver was going to take the shortest route to my workplace. Instead he took us on a zig-zag sightseeing tour throughout the backstreets of town. Up and down like a never-ending game of snakes and ladders, picking up person after person so he could earn the most from the trip. When the taxi seemed full, another passenger was added. And another. And another. At long last I arrived at work – barely on time, but with the realisation that God’s kingdom is like this generous minibus taxi: There’s room at the table for everyone!
Inviting others to your table starts with crossing boundaries – racial, language, gender, status, economic etc. – and making a connection. It’s a place where authentic relationships are formed – where the human dignity of the other person is respected and our humanity is shared. True hospitality means sharing physical bread, as well as the bread of our togetherness.
I decided to try God's radical table manners for myself. This past Saturday afternoon I bought two cooked meals at the Supermarket (roast beef, potatoes and vegetables) and become a host to one of the homeless people I had previously ignored. Then we sat down and ate together.
Christian Literature Fund has many resources that can help you in reaching out to others and being a witness of Jesus’ passionate love for humanity. Here are some free pamphlets that will empower you to make a difference in someone else’s life.
- ‘The way to God’ (ENG129) http://bit.ly/2nXJ2no
- ‘Hospitality: To make place at our tables’ (ENG202) http://bit.ly/2pzexYW
- ‘Reach out to others with a pamphlet’ (ENG158) http://bit.ly/2vRwb93