This particular story has wrapped itself around me. Not just the outside me, but the inside me. It has smothered my heart. It appears to be stalking me. It doesn’t hide behind lampposts or show a keen interest in a window shop display as I turn around. No, it just shows up.
Take yesterday, for instance.
I had responded to an invitation to a morning’s discussion on “A Good Society” hosted by the Inverness Cathedral. It came with a promise of soup and a sandwich lunch. There was a good crowd, enough to make for a game of sardines in the room set aside for the meeting. Most where church people though not from the same church, or even the same town. Sprinkled in the crowd were a couple of Muslims, a couple of community councillors and a few not-yet-faith people.
The starting point was a youtube clip of Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community in Inverness and winner of the Templeton Prize 2015 and “What it means to be fully human.” Listening to him, I came to the conclusion that I am not quite fully human, but on the right path.
Somewhere in his speech he talked about the Bible verses above.
Nowhere in the story does it say that you invite people – the poor, the cripples, the lame and the blind – so that they will get fed at least one good meal. The point of the story is not about dealing with the hunger of those in need, although that happens. It says “you will be blessed” – the meal provider, not the meal eater. There is a blessing to be bestowed by becoming a friend of the rejected.
It was never about what you ate, but who you ate with. The meal was just the backdrop for fellowship – for listening and telling stories, your own stories and the stories of others.
Certainly in Jesus time there was a set of expectations about who was invited to a meal and where a person sat at the table. There was a pecking order. Your place at the table told you where your place was. It was important to know yourself better than others and for others to know that too. The rules might not have been written down, but everyone knew them and lived by them.
Jesus didn’t adhere to the rules. He ate and drank with the wrong kind of people. He would not allow other people to govern the kind of man He would be. He was always seeking for ways to connect with people.
The people in our group, yes we were in groups, talked a lot about making connections with people in the context of a shared meal. Somone made the point that without the shared family meals, we are failing to teach our children how have a family meal with their own children, and how to provide that necessary background for sharing our day's stories.
We live in a world where making and maintaining connections is not easy. Family meals with everyone sitting around a table are not common these days. Quick microwave meals sitting in front of the TV are more common, perhaps a different meal to cater for different tastes or meals at different times to make the most effective use of time in a busy schedule.
There are only two of us, but we have fallen into the TV dinner habit. It may be a cooked-from-fresh meal but we rarely eat it around a table. It never seems worth it to lay a table for two. And the kitchen table has become a dropping off point for all things cluttered – empty boxes, old newspapers or plastic bottles for the recycling bin, fruit still in their packaging waiting to make it the fruit basket, toiletries bought but not quite in the bathroom yet, egg boxes of various dates with one or two eggs in them, pens and notebooks, shopping receipts, pans and casserole dishes washed and not put back into cupboards…I would like to think everyone lives this way, but I’m probably wrong.
We are not just robbing ourselves of the meal time stories, that unique opportunity to connect – we connect at other times and in other places – but the cluttered table means we don’t invite people around as often as we could. It’s a major clean-up job. We actually invested in new crockery a year or two ago with a view to hosting meals – but life got busy.
It really isn’t enough to say to myself “How sad!” or “What a missed opportunity”. I have a tendency to learn truth but not always to practice it.
“Let’s start by reclaiming the kitchen table,” said God. “Start small – choose a couple of days in the week and eat at the table, just you and Joe. Take the time to eat slowly, undistracted by the TV and share the day’s stories with each other. Then, after a while, put out a few more plates and invite some people.”
We’ve started. The kitchen table is almost reclaimed.