The dining table is a sacred space. It transcends time and trend. The place we sit to eat, talk, share, joke, laugh, cry. We connect, we belong, we share highs and lows, we are encouraged, we encourage, we are challenged and we challenge.
It has long been held that the traditional practice of families eating around a table together can be enormously beneficial to children. Eating together as a family can help to teach them important social skills, while those who eat with their parents are less likely to truant from school. Research from YouGov Omnibus found that among 1,789 children 82% ate meals around a table, yet 1 in 3 ate their evening meal in front of the TV.
And it’s not just children that benefit, Psychology Today writes ‘the simple act of eating a meal together may be all it takes to bring you and your partner to an emotionally better place.’ Data was collected from 100 people over three weeks who rated 11,500 social interactions. Across all meal-sharing conditions, compared to all other social interactions, the participants felt both more agreeable, more pleasant, and less dominant and submissive. And the mood-boosting effect of a shared meal occurred not only across romantic partners but friends, family members and co-workers.
Eating and drinking was a constant thread throughout Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew, there are 94 references to Jesus and food, and 50 in Luke. He eats with tax collectors and sinners, he eats at Simon’s house, he feeds the 5000, he feeds the 4000, he eats with Mary and Martha, he has dinner with the Pharisees, he gives instructions on what to do when you throw a party (invite the poor!), he tells parables involving food and he eats with his disciples on his final evening with them.
In the East, even today, mealtimes are more than occasions to consume nourishment. Being welcomed around the table to eat with others is a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy and unity. To invite a person to a meal was an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood and forgiveness. If persons have been estranged, a meal invitation opened a way for reconciliation. Sharing a table means sharing life. Fellowship around a table means fellowship before God because the sharing of food means a sharing in the blessing which the master of the house spoke over the food. So when we look at Jesus and who he shared meals with it was ‘an expression of the mission and message of Jesus… The inclusion of sinners in the community of salvation… is the most meaningful expression of the message of the redeeming love of God’ (J. Jeremias).
These reflections beg the questions…
Who do we share a table with?
How often do you share food around a table?
Do we demonstrate God’s unconditional love in how and who we invite around our table?