The Table

Almost every home has one. Whether
it’s a dilapidated strip of wood
in the midst of a small one-room
shack in the hills of Chiapas, Mexico;
an extravagant slab of marble underneath
a grand chandelier in an Italian
villa; a few canes of bamboo lashed together
in the slums of a southern province
in China; or a common piece of
oak in a two-stor y parsonage in A lton,
Iowa–all tables I’ve had the privilege
of sitting around in my life–there’s always
a table.

For me, and perhaps for many today,
the table has a fairly humble place
in daily life. More often than not it
ser ves as a cluttered dumping ground
for piles of paper, bills, homework, coupons,
telephone messages, and to-do
lists.

The table hasn’t always had such a
commonplace existence though. Years
ago–centuries ago, in fact–the table
played a much different role in day-today
life. These were the days leading up
to Jesus’ time among us, the days of
Torah–of strict religious laws and customs.
The Torah explained ver y clearly
and ver y carefully all the laws, rituals
and rules that a good, clean, righteous
person must abide by to worship God.
A nd there were multiple rules for table
fellowship–rules that defined what
they could eat; when they could eat; and, most importantly, who they could
eat with.

Far from cluttered and commonplace,
the table played an all-important
role in society, helping people know
who was in and who was out, who was
included and who was excluded, who
was an unclean sinner and who was religiously
righteous. A nd for those who
weren’t invited to the table, there was
nothing commonplace about it; rather,
it was a hurtful symbol of exclusion.

But it is both this commonplace
piece of furniture–found cluttered in
most of our modern-day homes–and
this hurtful and haughty piece of furniture–used in ancient homes to divide
and exclude the good from the bad, the
clean from the unclean, the righteous
from the sinner–that Jesus came to
transform and redeem. Jesus turned
the table from a symbol of exclusion
into a place welcome, from a symbol of
our chaotic lives into a place of community
and connection.

In the Gospel books of the New
Testament, we often encounter Jesus
reclining at a table or telling a story
that involves a table. We find Jesus eating
a meal, sharing a drink, enjoying
a conversation–all around the table.
In these table stories, the focus is not
on what is being ser ved–cud-chewing,
divided-hoofed animals, or fish with
scales and fins. The focus is not on the
washing and cleansing rituals that did
or did not take place before the meal.
The focus is on the people that Jesus is eating, drinking, and conversing with
around the table–the ta x collector, the
leper, the adulterer, the betrayer…the unclean, the sinner, the excluded.

I believe it is Jesus’ hope that his
example of table fellowship will be
passed on and emulated by his followers–not just the followers of the
first century, but the followers of the
twenty-first century as well. It is Jesus’
hope that we offer healing to a church
full of hurt, and community to a world
full of clutter and chaos. Interestingly
enough, we never find Jesus inviting
people to a synagogue service or a religious
ceremony, but he often invites
people to a home, a meal, a table–a
place of relationship, of community and
connection.

I don’t know about you, but I think
it’s time to clear off my table.

Elizabeth Ann Brown Hardeman is living a life of
controlled chaos as mom of two incredible girls, wife,
student, follower of Christ, and co-pastor of Alton Reformed
Church in Alton, Iowa.