Our table manners are a good indicator of what we think is going on when we gather to eat. Humility here translates to humility everywhere else. Charity for the person eating next to us here spills over into charity everywhere else.
The direction of this world got underway in earnest at a table of food. There, God supplied Adam with a garden of food to cultivate, eat and enjoy. Our grabbing at food and jostling for position there got us kicked off the table.
Now Jesus has come and where do we find Him? Gathering with others around a meal.
It’s dinner time at the Pharisees and everything happening here is happening around a table (Luke 14:1-14). Into this Sabbath dinner party splashes a man with dropsy.
Jesus table evangelism was one of the central events in His ministry and this occasion will be no different. Rather than turn to the disabled man, Jesus first addresses the other guests and says,
Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? But they remained silent. (Luke 14:3-4)
So, Jesus heals the man and sends him away.
Jesus continues to address the guests and wants to know whether, being the Sabbath and all, they would fetch an ox, or perhaps their own son if one of them fell into a well?
Watching Jesus at the table not only gives us a glimpse of His character but also of the way life at the table should affect life everywhere else.
There are plenty of pitfalls here. How do you like being interrupted during dinner by some guy with a flat tire? The wife and kids look at you on the phone. Are they tempted to despise your charity?
What if his car got the flat from racing around town with his mates? What if it wasn’t a car, but his horse in a ditch? What if it was the result of ploughing with his ox on a Sabbath?
The ruling principle for Jesus on this occasion was compassion. What principles would guide your response?
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The other thing Jesus wants to know is whether there is any humility at this table.
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. (Luke 14:8-9)
When it comes to eyeballing off the best seat, the envy of the ancient world is no different to the envy of our own day. Neither is our capacity for false humility. We are quite willing to don the camel skin if that’s what it takes. You know, the kind that takes the lowest seat in order to be exalted for our show of humility.
But nothing good is ever deserved. No one earns the best seat in the house and the only antidote to this kind of envy is gratitude. Gratitude born of grace.
This is the meaning behind what Jesus says next.
When you host a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbours. Otherwise, they may invite you in return, and you will be repaid. But when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Since they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:12-14)
The principle here is simple and is derived from the cross. Pay it forward. Do for others what they can’t do for you. Serve.
In the coming of Jesus, the world in which Adam and Eve ate alone is transformed into a world in which man can now eat with God. Jesus never asks to be repaid for what He has done for us. He asks you to pass the plate around.
This is what it means to carry your cross. What happened at this table sets the pattern for all our gatherings. Envy here becomes the seedbed for envy everywhere else. And gratitude here spills over into gratitude everywhere else.
All of our table meals are shadows of this gospel of grace. And, the gospel at work here is what leads to the gospel at work everywhere and in everything else.
Is this just some form of subtle evangelism? No. We are not aiming at subtle. We are aiming at the pervasive aroma of Christ in everything we do. And all of it starts at the table. A table at which He is always present.