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Companions

October 27, 2015

 

 

[adapted from a sermon delivered at Spring Mount Mennonite Church on Sunday October 25, 2015]

TableChurchOct2015

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-32 NRSV)

There’s something powerful and sacred about sharing food at a table.

More than any other gospel writer, Luke presents Jesus eating and drinking with people. 60 examples of this activity have been counted just in Luke’s gospel, so it’s not a stretch to say that Luke presents a theology of eating and drinking. But it’s not only in Luke’s gospel, so clearly this table activity was widely known as part of Jesus’ life and ministry.[1] Therefore, an important way to know Jesus and to join in his mission is to spend time at tables with others. #WhoWouldJesusEatWith?

As a congregation that has been actively exploring how meals can be an important part of spiritual formation I hope that this element of Luke’s writings might be both a challenge to grow further, and also an encouragement in our life together as we seek to display the kingdom of God in our community.

Justo González writes,

Eating and drinking are not only a physical necessity, but also an important element in the fabric of any society. Even to this day, when we sit together with someone at a table, this implies some sort of relationship. It may be a matter of friendship, of business, or of simply trying to get to know each other better. But in any case, sitting with another at a table is both a sign and a way to create and develop relationships. [2]

People who we develop relationships with are sometimes called companions. If you study the origin of the word companion you find an interesting linking of food and relationship. It’s a combination of 2 Latin words: com (“with”) and panis (“bread”). So our English word “companion” means “with whom one eats bread.”[3]

González puts it this way:

“a companion is someone with whom we break bread. In some societies in which violence is frequent and life is unstable, sharing bread is a sign of friendship or at least of respect.”[4]

Sharing meals together creates opportunities, like breaks in busy schedules, maybe even breaks in conflict, and also creates space for deeper relationships to form. Companions can develop friendships, generosity, and comfort, while at the same time lessening fear, scarcity, and isolation.

With this idea in mind, let’s look at the story in Luke 5. To a 1st century Jewish audience, Levi was a despised outsider—someone socially and religiously out of bounds for a person of faith to relate to. But this despised person has turned and followed Jesus (i.e. he “repented”; v.27-28). And then, this despised person throws a great banquet for Jesus.

29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house;

Notice something important here—Levi gave the banquet for Jesus. And Jesus accepted and received this gift of hospitality from Levi. In our zealousness to serve others (especially people who might be less fortunate), do we ever come to the relationship thinking that WE are the ones who have something to offer and THEY just need to receive our help? Can a real relationship ever develop if it’s so one-sided: one side always thinks they have the gift to give and is less willing to also receive the gift from their neighbor? Do we understand the difference between a relationship of paternalism and one of mutuality? In the text, Jesus provides an example for all who wish to engage in service and mission, showing us how to practice mutuality, how to build relationships, and how to receive hospitality.

The key phrase that I’d like to focus on is in v.29:

“Then Levi gave a great banquet for [Jesus] in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them.”

Who is the “them” who Jesus was sitting at the table with? “Tax collectors and sinners,” the despised friends of the despised Levi. It’s clear that these were people that the supposedly “righteous” folks looked at with contempt. It’s often easy for people who are welcomed within a group to have contempt for people on the outside of the group. The narrative of “Us vs Them” is a common and sad reality throughout human history.

Perhaps another reason this upset Jesus’ faith community had to do with what “sitting at the table” meant. The original word used in the Greek text is “reclining”—it could therefore read as “there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others reclining at the table with them.”[5] This reclining posture was common in ancient times. Some meals in those days were intended for deep conversation, and guests would recline around a table for long periods of time. This was no fast-food meal with a little small talk. This was an investment. Reclining at the table involved taking time to really be present with others, discussing important subjects, having conversations, while eating and drinking together.

Sitting at the table was a chance to develop companions. So I wonder if perhaps this was why the supposedly “righteous” folks were getting so uncomfortable? If Jesus was walking around our community today, where would he be reclining at the table? Who would he be eating with? Who’s hospitality would he receive? And who would be upset by his actions?

What can it look like to follow Jesus and live out this text? As we wonder about this, I’d like to share a creative expression that encourages the importance of eating together and developing companions in a diverse and fearful world.

Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that serves a menu from nations the United States is in conflict with. They provide information about these various global locations and host events and discussions. They seek to use

“the social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines.”

I definitely plan to visit Conflict Kitchen the next time I’m in Pittsburgh. [After worship on Sunday, one of the youth in the congregation came up to me and said, “Let’s plan a church road trip!”] I wonder what lessons congregations and denominations could learn from the Conflict Kitchen model, and how it might be an opportunity to bless our communities?

I invite us to imagine what it could mean to embrace Jesus’ theology of eating and drinking and live it out, and imagine what it could mean to sit at the table with others, as Jesus did.

Prayer for today:

Lord Jesus, by your Spirit may you help us
to be people who give and receive hospitality,
to be people who join in your sacred mission of eating and drinking with all neighbors,
to be people who continue to sit at the table,
that we might truly become companions with you and with others
in the abundant life you offer.
AMEN.


[1] Justo L. González, The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 77.

[2] González, 78.

[3] Maria Khodorkovsky, “Etymology of ‘Companion'”. Beyond Words – Language Blog, 29 September 2008. http://www.altalang.com/beyond-words/2008/09/29/etymology-of-companion/

[4] González, 78.

[5] González, 80.

 

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