Love at the Table: God’s Gift to a Lonely People
Popular television shows like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, and New Girl depict modern urban life as an endless parade of zany misadventures, unannounced visitors, and group hangouts.
No one is ever bored.
No one is ever lonely.
And yet we find ourselves more likely to spend a Friday evening watching the very television shows that promise us a lifestyle of tribal community in the big city than we are to actually experiencing it.
And, paradoxically, we are not alone.
According to the most recent General Social Survey, the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has tripled over the past three decades, and the average number of people a person feels like they can talk about “important matters” has dropped from three to two.
One of the core tenants of Christianity is communion and fellowship. And in a culture sorely lacking in both, an invitation into Biblical hospitality might be one of the most compelling and irresistible aspects of Christian tradition.
While the word “hospitality” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, it is a theme woven throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament.
In opening chapters of 2nd Samuel, David has just successfully completely a bitter campaign against King Saul. Saul and his sons were soundly defeated and killed at the Battle of Mount Gilboa.
Taking his place as the new King of Israel, David made an unusual request.
He asked a servant if there is anyone from Saul’s family still alive of whom he “can show God’s kindness.”
This is an unusual request because it was customary for a conquering king to wipe out the entire bloodline of his predecessor in true Game of Thrones fashion.
The servant informs David there is one descendent left — Mephibosheth, one of Saul’s grandsons. King David asks the servant to find Mephibosheth and bring him to the palace.
Mephibosheth is a cripple. He was injured when his nurse dropped him while attempting to flee the city when the news reached Jerusalem that Saul had been killed.
He knows what happens to the grandsons of defeated kings. When the king’s servant finds him and summons him to the palace, he fully expects to killed.
Laying on the floor before King David’s throne, Mephibosheth says, “What could you want from a dead dog like me?”
But David surprises him. Instead of putting him to the sword, David opens a spot at his royal table for Mephibosheth. He elevates an exiled cripple to a position of honor in his kingdom.
The Bible is littered with stories just like this.
In the Ancient Near East, sharing a meal with someone else was a sign of deep friendship, intimacy, and unity.
Or, as Christian author Christine Polh puts it in her book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition:
“A shared meal is the activity most closely tied to the reality of God’s kingdom, just as it is the most basic expression of hospitality.”
So it should come as no surprise that some of our most evocative stories of Jesus are centered around a dinner table.
The Divine Invitation
In the final conversation Jesus had with the disciples before his death (which occurred while “the evening meal was in progress, of course), Jesus gives his disciples a “new commandment.”
“Love one another. As I loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love another.”
A few minutes prior to issuing this new command, Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet. Despite being the guest of honor and their rabbi, Jesus took on a role traditionally reserved for a household servant or slave.
This is because Jesus was illustrating a new way to love another.
And then Jesus and the disciples shared a final meal together.
Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright sets the scene this way:
“When Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory. He gave them a meal.”
Hospitality is an opportunity to open your home to the brokenness of the world and meet people where they’re at — where you’re at.
It’s a chance to make your home a refuge from image management, Instagram filters, and the lie of “Never Enough.”
The greek word for home is oikos, which means “dwelling place.” The verb form oikeo (literally “to dwell”) is the same word used to describe the God’s presence in the life of a Christ-follower.
The Christian God is not a god that stays cooped up in a heavenly palace and decides to meet us in places deemed safe and sanitary. The Christian God is a God that is constantly working around and through that which he made in his own image — people.
In our church-centric culture, we often expect the people in vocational ministry to do most of the heavy lifting for us.
But maybe God doesn’t want to use a worship leader or pastor.
Maybe He wants to use you.
Maybe God doesn’t want to use a church sanctuary or a convention hall.
Maybe He wants to use your living room.
Welcoming someone into your home is a lot different from taking someone out to dinner at a restaurant.
It’s intimate, vulnerable, and real.
I believe if we open our hearts to the possibility, God can use our lives and homes as a staging ground for a cultural shift away from isolation and into true community-based living.
And if you feel ill-equipped or unworthy of such a calling, then God has you exactly where he wants you.