Recently, I ate lunch at a nearby restaurant. A large group of people came in, with babies and kids and dads and moms – twelve in all. Since this was a small restaurant, the only large table sat eight. One of the dads looked around, and then decided to take the kids out to the hamburger place next door.
The table was right next to mine, and I was sitting alone. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I could have moved to a different table, and then they could have pushed the tables together to accommodate the whole family. I kicked myself.
Within a minute or two, the dads and kids were back – the other restaurant did not work out for them. Not wanting to waste this opportunity, I offered to move, and they gratefully accepted. Soon the tables were pushed together, and the whole lot was seated, all at one extended table. They were quite a sight, happily chatting and discussing what to order, what’s good, and all of those things that happen when a group sits down “at table.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sits “at table” with tax collectors and sinners. That, too, must have been quite a sight! Something tells me that a meal with Jesus wasn’t an ordinary day-to-day grilled cheese sandwich kind of affair. But it probably wasn’t elaborate, either. In fact, I would guess that food wasn’t the main focus. Jesus was the focus. He probably did a great amount of his teaching while sitting “at table” with his newly-converted hosts and other guests. Being “at table” with Jesus was a sacred time.
It got me to thinking about what happens “at table” around my house. Sometimes, we are too busy to sit down for a meal. Other times, we’re not all there; some come early and leave early, others come late and eat later. Still others come later and eat the leftovers. But there are those rare times when we are all together, committed to sitting around the table – one table – enjoying a scrumptious meal. Those are good times. I also believe they are sacred times.
When we are “at table” as a family, do we treat it as sacred time? Do we see it as an opportunity to share bread and ourselves with one another, or is it merely an opportunity to slam down some food and get to the next task?
We can extend this thinking to the spiritual table. The tax collectors and sinners, of which the Pharisees so derisively spoke, came because they were hungry for something else in their lives. Hungry for the presence of Jesus. Hungry for the words of Jesus. Hungry for anything different than the existence they had been living.
It was almost like they were starving for the Word of the Lord, as prophesized by Amos in the first reading.
When we are “at table” with Jesus, during our religious observances, how hungry are we for His Word? How hungry are we for the food that He will be sharing with us soon – His own Body and Blood. Do we let our minds wander? Do we think about that great brunch we are planning after the service? Do we come late or leave early?
As evident in today’s Gospel, if someone was hungry, he or she was always welcome around Jesus’ table.
Are we hungry enough to be there, too?
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