I have been thinking a lot about Jesus’s encounters with people at the dinner table. I wonder what it would be like to have him as a mealtime companion. What would he talk about? Would he walk the path of least resistance, trying his best not to bring up uncomfortable topics; or would he hone in on his dinner companion’s deepest need as he did with the Samaritan woman at the well? Jesus ate with a wide variety of people—righteous and sinner. It seems Jesus never left a meal without also offering salvation.
Sitting down for a leisurely meal may be a lost art. And with it, perhaps we are losing the art of conversation that permits a probing interaction, one that touches the core of who we are. Usually we seek to protect ourselves at all costs, to the point of ignoring or denying our deepest need and what can bring healing to our soul. We can’t admit we need to be saved. In his recent book, theologian Robert Cardinal Sarah says that we have lost “the sense of salvation in God” and that this is a mark of our times. What does he mean by that?
Man does not feel that he is in danger. Many in the Church no longer dare to teach the reality of salvation and eternal life … there is a strange silence concerning the last things. Preachers avoid speaking about original sin. That appears to be archaic. The sense of sin seems to have disappeared. Good and evil no longer exist. Relativism, that terribly effective bleach, has wiped out everything in its path. Doctrinal and moral confusion is reaching its height. Evil is good, good is evil. Man no longer feels any need to be saved. The loss of the sense of salvation is the consequence of the loss of the transcendence of God. (p. 47)
Does Sarah’s diagnosis sound familiar? Can you remember the last time you sat down with a friend and talked about the deeper concerns of life?
Having lunch with Jesus
One day Jesus went to Jericho, a city made famous in the Old Testament after a marching band brought down its walls and buildings with loud trumpet blasts and shouts. Centuries later, Jericho has been rebuilt and Jesus is passing through. A short, rich, chief tax collector named Zacchaeus wants to see him. Due to his physical stature and the size of the crowd, Zacchaeus runs ahead and climbs up into a sycamore tree to get a bird’s eye view.
You can imagine his surprise when Jesus suddenly stops right below him, looks up, and says: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). Jesus invites himself to lunch. Now Zacchaeus was not on the “who’s who to have lunch with” list. Several heads were turned by the scandalous self-invite. Those in the know murmured: “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (verse 7). But what others thought didn’t seem to matter to Jesus, so Zacchaeus didn’t let it bother him either. He made haste and came down from the tree and received Jesus joyfully.
What did they talk about? I would be tempted to talk about: 1) the political climate of Jericho, 2) the success/failure of the local sports team, 3) Zacchaeus’s beautiful home and furnishings, or 4) Jesus’s busy itinerary of preaching and healing.
Jesus may have touched on those subjects, but a guiding principle kept Jesus on topic. He describes it in verse 10: “For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus had a very strong sense of his host’s need for more than physical nourishment. He came to offer spiritual nourishment. It was the very “food” that he consumed (John 4:34). For Jesus, nothing would have been more tragic than to leave a person without an encounter of good news. While the Samaritan woman received “living water” from Jesus, her evangelistic cry to her townspeople was “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did” (verse 29). And she had done much! And don’t forget Matthew (another tax collector who became an apostle), and Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman (who anointed Jesus’s feet as she repented of her sin) while he was eating dinner.
What happened to Zacchaeus? We are not privy to the details of the conversation, but after dinner, Zacchaeus stood and said to Jesus: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold” (verse 8). Wow! To reach that kind of repentance, had Zacchaeus gotten a browbeating from Jesus over latkes? Not at all! Jesus eagerly desired to dine with Zacchaeus, not to hammer him with guilt and condemnation. But Jesus wanted to lovingly share truth with this man—to talk about the reality of salvation and eternal life—the truth that he had come to seek and to save the lost!
When Zacchaeus confessed his sin and committed to amending his life, Jesus replied, “Today salvation has come to this house” (verse 9).
A 'table talk' with Jesus
We are never beyond the need for a “table talk” with Jesus. One of the most significant invitations to a “table talk” in Scripture was actually offered to a congregation, not an individual. In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, we find Jesus talking to the church at Laodicea. This church had prominence and a pedigree. Paul mentioned Laodicea in his Epistle to the Colossians and it seems he also wrote a letter to them, also mentioned in Colossians. Yet by the time the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, this church needed to have a “come to Jesus” meeting. Jesus says: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (3:15-16).
Does that seem severe, not really loving on Jesus’s part? We could perceive it that way, especially if we fear or avoid self-examination. But Jesus speaks these words with great love and concern for the men and women in the church at Laodicea some forty years after they originally received the gospel. Move to verses 19 and 20 and hear Jesus’s invitation: “Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Do you find yourself with nothing to say to Jesus?
If you have you ever tried to eat a meal with someone with whom you were at odds, someone you had hurt, wronged or mistreated in word or deed, the food seems to stick in your throat if you can eat at all. Will you make the first move? Or will the other person? Jesus always initiates the meal of reconciliation with us. He understands us. He knows us. He knows our sin. He understands our propensity to lose sight of what really matters: to be zealous and repent of our sin. Just as the church of Laodicea needed an encounter with Jesus over dinner, we too have to invite Jesus to sit down with us. It could be painful, but so worth it!
An invitation accepted from Jesus cannot help but open our hearts to the full sense of salvation. Our lives will be transformed. How so? When we accept his invitation, we become ready and able to extend an invitation to someone in our life who needs to experience the same mealtime grace we have received from Jesus. The next time you sit down to the table, would you be willing to share something deeper about yourself? Would you be willing to ask a friend a probing question? For you and your friend, salvation can come to your house!
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