“The evening meal was in progress”
Hospitality is home turf for the Gospel. “The evening meal was in progress. . .” John’s descriptive note reveals the delightful truth that the theology of the cross can be discussed over dinner. Table fellowship fits into the New Testament narrative so unobtrusively that we can almost miss it. A simple meal was the context for much of Jesus’ interaction with his disciples. Religion seems to imply that whenever God is the subject, the conversation belongs best in a church, or some other “sacred space,” but that is not the Jesus way. A simple meal is one of the best places to begin to understand and practice true spirituality. God intends for theology to be worked out over a meal together. A prominent Pharisee missed this humanizing truth, but Zacchaeus embraced it.
In his humility, Jesus invites our hospitality. Physical and spiritual nourishment belong together. When we break bread in community we feed on the Bread of Life. Over dinner we come to understand the will of God. We learn to pray together. We might prefer to keep theology off the table and on the bookshelf, but Jesus didn’t give us that option. He turns the dinner table into a pulpit and his pedagogy offers equal measures of relating and reasoning. The upper room is the place to do real theology.
Jesus’ teaching style led to conversations along the way and around the table. The disciples felt free to ask questions. There was plenty of give-and-take in a free-flowing dialogue. The upper room is a great model for family devotions. Without the ambience of authority or sacred symbol, Jesus modeled the open secret of genuine spiritual formation. He appealed to the mind and the heart. He used metaphor and parable, innuendo and hyperbole to reach his disciples. His message resisted take-it-or-leave-it bullet points. Judging from Jesus’ example, growing strong disciples is slow and deliberate work. If I expect to follow his example, I need to become more prayerful and creative when it comes to my lunch appointments and dinner conversations. The pedagogy of the Table of the Lord does not work on folding chairs facing a video screen, but in real person-to-person conversation.
The evening meal in the upper room occurred with life-threatening hostility brewing on the outside and considerable fear and confusion intruding on the inside. But in the mind of Jesus it was the best place for doing theology. The church is like the disciples in the upper room that night filled with all the emotions that make disciple-making difficult and challenging. The hospitality of Jesus and the pedagogy of the table set the stage for authentic transformation. Spirituality is often squeezed into a corner of life reserved for pious reflections and church services. But God intended spirituality to be at the center of our ordinary, everyday life together.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering.” Romans 12:1 The Message
Upper Room Reflection
Why is the kitchen table a good place to have a conversation about the Christian life?
Do you find Jesus’ style hospitality liberating or intimidating?
Is theology best served in three-point sermons or in the give-and-take of face-to-face conversation?
What is the best way for you to receive spiritual nourishment?