Setting a New Table

by Butch Odom

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. – Luke 14:14 

This chapter in Luke opens with Jesus preparing to have a Sabbath feast at the home of a leading Pharisee. In the midst of these prominent leaders, a man suffering from dropsy appears in front of Jesus. In modern medicine, dropsy is better known as edema, a condition that causes severe swelling and can be debilitating and disfiguring. This man, appearing at this Sabbath feast, was probably an unwelcome sight. He likely looked sick all the time, had trouble walking, and would have been considered unclean by the Pharisees gathered for the feast.

Jesus poses the question to the group, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?” Perhaps they are stunned by the man’s appearance or Jesus’ bold question. Whatever the case, they reportedly have nothing to say. Since all he heard was silence from the group, Jesus healed the man of his ailment. He then reminds the leaders that they surely would save their child and even their donkey if either were in danger on the Sabbath.

From here, the text then quickly moves to the meal where there is a humorous jockeying for the best, most favored seats around the table. In frustration, Jesus tells them a parable of a wedding banquet where the guests are acting similarly to the Pharisees. Jesus instructs them that the people they should be inviting to their banquets are the very people unwelcome at such events—the poor, crippled, lame and blind. Jesus reminds us that our tables should welcome all of God’s children, not just the elect, not just the healthy.

The holidays are an important time to remember that all are welcome at God’s table. We do this liturgically through communion and spiritually through our outreach. But Jesus doesn’t only invite us to a metaphorical banquet. Rather, he says when you give a banquet—a Thanksgiving potluck, a church dinner, or a Christmas feast—remember that the table should be set so that everyone can enjoy the meal.

Often our family holiday feasts fall short of what might be considered reasonably healthy. Even if we try to stick to healthy foods throughout the course of the year, somehow we throw our hands up when it comes to setting the holiday table. But in the holiday season, when many people struggle with loneliness and isolation, it is more important than ever that the table we set be a table for all.

My church, like most churches, has many different kinds of dietary needs. We have diabetics and people suffering from heart disease. We have people who are overweight and people who struggle from eating disorders. We have people who take diuretics each day to ward off the fluid build up that leads to edema, just like the man in Luke. We have people with food allergies and people who are vegetarians. We have people with celiac disease, who cannot process gluten, and alcoholics, who cannot drink communion wine. And when we don’t do our best to provide for each and every one of them, I worry that some people may avoid the fellowship of our congregational meals because there is little there for them to eat.

Of course, providing for such a vast array of health conditions can be difficult and costly. It can be very tempting to go with the fried chicken and chocolate cake that is popular with most people. But the meals we serve are a reflection of the care we offer our whole community. If we are willing to visit our people in the hospital, we should be willing to support the food choices that can keep them from having to go there in the first place. Setting a new table requires that we intentionally invite each and every person to the meal through planning, commitment, sacrifice and service.

In Luke 14:14, Jesus implores us to open our tables up to as many people as possible. But to do this, we will have to do more than send out more invitations. As we approach the season of holiday feasts at home and at church, I hope we can begin to re-imagine our tables and explore new ways to say “Welcome!” with the foods we offer one another.


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