I was talking to a friend of mine who spends a lot of time on the road, travelling from city to city across the country as a consultant. He spends more than two-thirds of his life on the road. We were talking about the toll that travelling takes on a person – the hotels, the airports, the time zones. It all adds up. But he said the hardest part about being on the road so much is eating alone. “Sitting at a table, two or three times a day—you just never get used to eating alone.”
Scattered across the pages of the gospels—especially Luke’s Gospel—are images of the dinner table. In Luke’s Gospel, if you want to find Jesus, look for the nearest dinner table. You’ll find him at the home of Zacchaeus, the dreaded tax collector whom everyone loathes—the local Tony Soprano—who scampered up the sycamore tree to spy Jesus as he passed by. When Jesus saw him, he said, “Zacchaeus, let’s go have dinner together.”
On another occasion, Jesus stopped by the home of Mary and Martha and, while sitting around the dinner table, taught them about the kingdom of God. Later on, you’ll find him at Simon the Pharisee’s, teaching him about forgiveness. You’ll find him at a banquet one day, telling the host that the best guests at any dinner party are those who cannot afford to repay the favor.
One evening, after Jesus had taught his best friends everything they would need to know upon his death, he set the table for twelve, and with bread and wine, he told each of them that he loved them very much. And the following day, when the religious authorities sought to convict him of a crime, their only charge was this: “he eats with sinners and tax collectors.”
Even after his death, the risen Jesus meets Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus. He appears to them as a mere stranger, but when they invite him to dinner that evening and he breaks the bread at the table, it’s then that they recognize him.
Wherever there’s a table, wherever food is shared, you’ll find Jesus.
There is no greater symbol of our common bond as children of God than the dinner table. There is no more tangible sign of our genuine love and acceptance of one another than our willingness—our eagerness—to share our bread with one another. Whenever we eat with others there is opportunity for true companionship—a word that comes from the Latin, companis, which means, literally, “with bread.” A companion is someone with whom you share bread.
I landed my first steady job when I was fifteen years old. My boss was an eighty-three year old widow who, for $4 an hour, paid me to do some light chores at her modest mobile home. Every Saturday, at 8:00am, she would give me a list of things to do – wash the windows, sweep the patio, pull the weeds out front. At around 10:30am, she would call me into her single wide trailer for a break, whereupon we would sit at her small dining table and, over a plate of cookies and a glass of milk, we would talk.
At noon, she would call me in again: a plate of potato chips, a ham and cheese sandwich, cut into four crust-less squares, a few pecan sandies, and a glass of soda that had long since lost its fizz. There, at the table, we ate and talked.
At 2:30, more cookies, milk, conversation.
I was fifteen years old and didn’t fully understand at the time the exact nature of my work: seven hours of chores, and an hour and a half of conversation; once a week, for three years. She would have me pull weeds that were no longer there, wash windows that still sparkled from the week before, and vacuum her spotless floor. It took me a few visits before it finally clicked for me: six days a week she ate alone, but one day a week she had someone at the table.
Over the years, around that table, I learned everything there was to know about her life, her late husband, her long trip west in the days of the Dust Bowl, about the day she learned how to drive and the day she was told that she could no longer drive. We shuffled through old black and white photographs of a bygone world, and read the poetry of Wordsworth and Dickinson, and talked about my family, my girl friends, my hopes and dreams. We did all of this while eating little crust-less squares of ham and cheese sandwiches and drinking orange soda around a small dining table.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I do know it now: there is nothing more spiritual, nothing more redemptive, than to share your food at the table.
Photo Credit: mtsofan