Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Place at the Table

"At the Desert Retreat House"

Every year during this "Thanksgiving" season churches and charities take the opportunity to prepare a big feast for the poor and needy in communities across the country. 

I watched a news' story yesterday reporting on one particular Thanksgiving event "put on" by a local church. The parish hall was decorated in orange streamers, pictures of pilgrims on the wall, tables laden with turkey and sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and apple pie, and everyone partaking of the abundance -a meal especially prepared for those who could not provide such a feast for themselves. 

In the news' report yesterday, with the sights and sounds of all those "poor people" heartily eating in the background, a reporter interviewed the minister of the church providing the meal and asked why his church offered this annual community event? He quoted from a teaching of Jesus found in one of the gospels as a response:

Whatsoever you do to the least among you, you do to me.
Whatsoever you do not do to the least among you, you do not do to me.

I've been thinking about that pastor's response as to why his church offers that annual free Thanksgiving meal to poor people in the community.  Jesus did indeed teach his disciples to extend kindness and compassion to the poor and needy. In one sense feeding the hungry is like feeding "Christ" himself. But as I see it, while it is a generous gesture, an occasional meal distributed to the needy at Thanksgiving doesn't even come close to "getting at" Jesus' radical and revolutionary teaching about how to live in the "Kingdom of God."

In virtually everything he ever did, said or taught, Jesus took the status-quo culture of his day and turned it upside down. He painted a picture of a new world order- a new way of living in which everyone was to be afforded a place of equal dignity at the table of life - no second class-citizens, no outcasts. 

The gospels often portray Jesus at meals and parties (in fact he spent so much time at feasts and festivals that his enemies accused him of being a drunkard or a glutton). But the reason Jesus devoted so much time to eating, drinking and feasting was to paint a vivid picture of just how radical this new world order he proclaimed really looks. 

He would eat meals with the public sinners and social outcasts and enjoy feasts with the rich and the famous along with the poorest and the lowest. His table was an icon of what life in this new way of living might actually look like.

There is a beautiful passage in the Hebrew Scriptures that paints a tender and poignant picture of the kind of new world order Jesus came to proclaim:

The poor are lifted from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.
They sit in places of honor among kings and princes.

That's why I'm not so sure that a free Thanksgiving meal in a church hall even comes close to the new way of life Jesus invited his disciples to follow. A picture of poor people "in their place" with those who "have" the abundance watching on, and from time to time sharing some of what they have, - it just doesn't do it for me as a picture of what Jesus was talking about. 

Maybe a more accurate "snapshot' of Jesus' new world order might depict everyone sitting down at the same table together, the pastor of the church, the mayor of the city next to the single immigrant mother with her 5 kids, the millionaire who owns the mansion at the golf course sitting next to his gardener and groundskeeper - all sharing whatever they have, preparing the meal together, enjoying the meal together, and then getting up and everyone doing the dishes when it's all done- not just at Thanksgiving time but every day of the year.

You certainly don't have to be a Christian to benefit from Jesus' teaching about who is called to share the feast. The Thanksgiving season is a great time for us all to reflect on who is invited to the table of our own lives and where they get to sit. 

















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