Lots of food.
Lots of fellowship.
Few of us can resist a meal with friends and family.
While important to most of us, culturally, we fail to understand the social importance of a meal in other parts of the world, and specifically during Jesus' time.
Believing that an understanding of ancient Jewish culture and customs would uncover a lot of the real meaning behind countless scripture accounts, verses, and words, I started looking for a reliable book that would aid me in my journey.
Thanks to my pastor, Robert Emory, I found such a book at Christian Supply, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.
It has been a great addition to my library. I recommend it for yours.
Back to food.
While meals are kinda important in our culture, the form and perhaps meaning has changed significantly over the last six decades or so.
True family meals together are rare, shattered by the One-Eyed Monster (TV), our insanely hectic lifestyle, and a host of other interruptions. The time when families actually "fellowshipped" around a common meal at the table is largely a hoary artifact of the past.
So, when the Bible talks about "eating," we simply "don't get" the full meaning or message from the passage.
First, it helps to understand that in the Middle East in Jesus' day, mutual dependence was the rule of the day. No motels. No Mickey Ds. If you were travelling to another town, finding a place to sleep or eat depended upon the hospitality of perfect strangers. Much of this tradition still applies today in that part of the word.
In impoverished areas of Africa today, the host or hostess will often take from a future family meal or meals to provide a feast for their honored guest.
As Sitting says about ancient Israel: "...the table was much more than a place to eat. It was a place of mutual trust and vulnerability. Sitting down at the same table with someone meant that you shared a protected relationship with them ...To be a guest at a family's table meant that you were under their protection. As long as you were with the family, they were honor-bound to defend you, even at the cost of their lives."
This custom is still observed in some parts of the world today.
In the 23rd Psalm David says: "...You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies..." David understood and is telling us that even under the direst circumstances we know that we are in God's protecting presence.
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son and the meal prepared for him when he returned?
For a son to ask for his inheritance while the father was alive was unheard of, an unthinkable, unforgiveable, insulting request.
But that's not how the father reacted and, by parable, what God the Father will do for sinners.
He not only forgive his wayward son, he prepared a feast for him, enabling the son to sit down and dine with the forgiving father as God invites the forgiven sinner to sit down and dine with Him.
Sitting: "...to invite a someone to a meal was to extend an honor, an offering of peace, trust, and forgiveness. ... Jesus' meals with sinners weren't merely social events ... they represented the very essence of his mission and message ... Each time Jesus ate with sinners, he was revealing the kingdom of God."
And remember how Jesus ate with his disciples prior to his death and asked them to remember him with a meal?
While many groups in the early first century were exclusive in terms of table fellowship, the early church was inclusive, inviting Gentiles to dine with them, a clear sign of Christ's grace and love.
Plus, one of the great heavenly images of our reunion with Christ is the wedding feast, and that's no accident.