In my last post, “Why Jesus Loves a Potluck,” I mentioned that those opposing Jesus find fault with the fact that he eats with pretty much anyone. Their anger is palpable in the accusation against him: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2, NRSV). I want to explore this notion of sharing a meal with unlikely dining partners and what this might look like and lead to in our lives.
As I often do, I will start with a story. I was serving as a youth director my sophomore year of college. I had been on the job only a month or so and had little clue what I was doing. A youth director I admired mentioned occasionally going to eat lunch with my students at school. Not only would I get to visit with my students and meet their friends, but also the teachers and administrators at the school would learn who I am and that I am a partner with them in caring for youth. One day I made my way to the school, and as I entered the cafeteria, tangible memories of middle school flooded back to me. At that time, who I ate lunch with felt like a life or death matter. The tables were more exclusive than any country club, and trying to break in to a different table (of course one of higher social standing) was a fool’s errand. But now I was in college. I had a pretty decent car. I would be welcomed with open arms at any table – especially that of my students, right? At first, not so much, because I was still a stranger and an outsider.
“Throughout our lives, the decisions about who we share a meal with shape us in powerful ways.”
Throughout our lives, the decisions about who we share a meal with shape us in powerful ways. We may scoff at the scribes and Pharisees for making such a big deal about Jesus’ lunch partners, but when I turn the mirror back on myself, I must confess that I typically eat with friends, colleagues, and people I already know and like much more than I share food with strangers and those I find it difficult to be around.
Psalm 23 includes a line that has often puzzled me: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5, NRSV). The “you” is referring to God. So, in this incredibly beloved passage there is a line about God sitting us down for a meal with our enemies. How often do we ignore this line and the scene it invokes? It reminds me of one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes. Jerry is given a suit by hack comedian Kenny Bania (who Jerry of course cannot stand). Bania suggests that perhaps Jerry could take him to lunch as a gesture for the suit. Jerry hates the very idea of this, but gives in. When they first go for lunch, Bania isn’t all that hungry and only orders soup. Jerry insists, “That’s the meal!” because he can’t imagine having to eat with Bania ever again.
So who is your Kenny Bania? Who can you not imagine sharing a meal with? In our increasingly divided world, we often hate the very idea of someone else so much that we actually dehumanize them. We make them our enemy and say things like, “I wouldn’t pour water on them if they were on fire.” Especially as the US prepares for a presidential election – one that has already gone off the rails in contention and mudslinging – we who follow Jesus would do well to remember that he ate with those who seemed to have nothing in common with him, even his enemies, even those who would betray him and hand him over to death.
Honestly, I can’t imagine eating with certain people, and by certain people I mean Donald Trump. And yet when I have felt that about other people and have been forced to eat with them, I find that they are actually human. We may disagree about everything, and yet there is something that happens through sharing food together. The word “companion” literally means “with bread.” A companion is simply someone you share bread with. Who might God be calling you to share bread with as we seek reconciliation and newness of life?
About the Author: Rev. David Hollis is an elder in the Memphis Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves at the Wesley Fellowship for Belmont University in Nashville, TN.