On the list of things I can’t stop thinking about is this: Jesus, savior of humanity, could have chosen any way to change the world, and he decided to start in our homes, around our tables.
Fixate on this for a few minutes with me.
Hiding in plain sight on countless pages of the New Testament is a rescue plan three words long:
He ate meals.
Go look. Jesus was always eating with people. He used his time around their tables to listen, teach, heal, and extend compassion to the very people the religious elite were intent on keeping at arm’s length.
It stands to reason, then, that every day, God sends us—as missionaries—to the table. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we all have to eat. Our tables look different, of course, but our mission is the same:
“Feed my sheep.” -John 21:17
Could it be loving people far from God is as simple as sharing meals with them? Since the table is where we consistently find Jesus advancing his kingdom, proclaiming peace, and displaying love, I think, yeah, it is.
Becoming more like him, then, means leveraging the power of meals in the ways he did—by being present at the table, inviting others to the table, and showing up to tables that don’t belong to us.
Be present at the table
I know this sounds obvious, but the statistics suggest otherwise. A study by New York University found that, in the past 20 years, the frequency of family dinners has declined by 33 percent. Another study revealed Americans now spend a higher percentage of their food budget on restaurants than they do on groceries. And, while the act of being physically present at our tables is declining, things like depression, divorce, teen suicide, and addiction are on the rise. Skyrocketing, in fact.
Assuming these statistics are connected, it’s time we re-prioritize coming to the table with the people God’s placed in our purview instead of rushing them around drive thrus or allowing them to eat alone or in front of their devices. It’s also incumbent upon us to not only be physically present at the tables in our homes, offices, and school cafeterias but to show up emotionally present there, too.
If you regularly come to the table frazzled, distracted, or begrudgingly, what shifts could you make in your daily or weekly routine to help you come to the table more often, less harried, and more present? Is breakfast a better time to pull your family together to share a meal than dinner? When guests come over, can you ask them to bring something? If you stink at meal planning, can you download this free guide I created to help you get right with the Lord in that area? Is there one night a week you could enlist your roommate, teenager, or Door Dash to make dinner?
Address whatever it is that’s keeping you physically or emotionally removed from your table, and then…
Invite others to the table
Jesus didn’t have a fancy house, matching dishes, or an eternity-scented Magnolia Home candle, but his invitation to the communion table remains open to everyone. The ultimate inviter, Jesus welcomes us—arm’s wide—to his table, then calls us to usher his love into the lives of others through the seats around ours.
The good news is that inviting people to come and eat doesn’t have to be weird or complicated because everyone needs to eat. People will turn down an invitation to a church event, but they’ll likely say heck yes to whatever you’re throwing on the grill this weekend. What happens next is looks a lot like connection because, no matter how different from you your guests might be, passing the mustard and ketchup has a way of leveling the playing field.
Author, food blogger and delightful Instagram hang, Bri McCoy says it like this:
“Sharing a meal at the table naturally leads to intimacy. Eating in front of someone is, by nature, a vulnerable act. When we create space for people to open their mouths, they just might do something more than eat. They just might open their hearts, too. In many ways, the fork is the most widely used and unrecognizable microphone.”
Try it. Before you do, remember this: Being hospitable does not mean being impressive. It means being a place of safety, rest, and nourishment for the poor and needy, the weak and wounded, the sick and sore. As the saying goes, when people leave your home, they should feel better about themselves, not better about you.
Don’t overcomplicate this or you won’t do it very often. At our house, we make the same thing every time people come over. If the group is larger than 10, it’s a taco/fajita bar situation with churros fried by the fine folks of El Pollo Loco. Fewer than 10 guests and it’s tri-tip, potatoes, and salad. If our guests offer to bring something, I always say dessert because baking is a fool’s errand.
We’ve served these two meals to church people, college kids, new neighbors, old friends, teenage garbage disposals, more than a few questionable relatives, and even a homeless woman who used to live behind our church in Las Vegas. And you know what I never did? Stress about preparing any of it.
Invite strangers and sinners to your table; keep it simple when you do. Your invitation may be the thing Jesus uses to interrupt their despair with his hope. He’ll be there with you, author Shannan Martin says, “bumping elbows under the Target umbrella, sucking sauce off his fingers, and laughing at our jokes. He’s shown us the way. Just invite people to come, bring whatever they have, and spread it around.”
Finally, to leverage the power of meals the way Jesus did, we must:
Show up at other people’s tables
There are tables set all over your city and beyond that are primed for your participation; tables where your gifts, life experience, and kindness just might change someone’s life. Are you inviting yourself to them like Jesus did the day he entered Jericho and a vertically challenged, jerk of a tax collector climbed a tree to get a better look at him?
In Luke 19:5 it says, “When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. ‘Zacchaeus!’ he said. ‘Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.’ Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.”
If you’ve read the rest of the story, you know that by bestowing the unexpected honor on Zacchaeus of being his host, Jesus also bestowed on him dignity, which changed everything about the man’s life.
Are you noticing the marginalized, hurting, or lonely and making your way to their tables? They are desperately hoping you will. It might be the single parent in your office who is barely making ends meet. Or the widower next door who is just trying to get through the day. It’s definitely the kid sitting alone at lunch and probably the mom behind you in the bleachers who’s refilling her Yeti with more wine. I’d also venture to guess it’s that couple you kind of can’t stand but who keeps asking you to come over for dinner. Is it high time you said yes?
Find your way like Jesus did to the table. Bring your whole self when you do. It’ll cost you time and vulnerability, but it will be worth it.
It might even change the world.