by Kato Clinton, Resonate Network staff
Finding Jesus at the dinner table
Everyone has to eat. It’s almost guaranteed that we’ll eat at some point of the day. If we were Hobbits we’d eat seven times a day, but for most of us, it’s three times a day. People love food! Can you image how deep our friendships could become if we sat at a dinner table together every night? What if we invited non-believers over once a week? Twice? There are many reasons why I love Jesus, but one of them is how easy he showed living on mission. We overcomplicate it. Jesus would literally invite himself over for a meal. He ate with Levi, a tax collector (Mark 2:15-17), not a very popular profession in Bible times. Tax collectors were seen as traitors and cheats who personally profited off of others. It is not uncommon to see “tax collectors” followed by “and sinners” in the Bible. But Jesus has dinner with Zacchaeus (another tax collector) in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus responds by giving half of his possessions to the poor, and if he cheated anybody out of anything, he paid them back four times the amount! In Luke alone there are ten instances where it was recorded that Jesus ate with people.
The beautiful thing about Jesus is that he didn’t require people to change before coming to Him. He sought them out, met them where they were, and extended grace to them in their circumstances. There are multiple places in the Bible where Jesus seeks to serve. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45a). Think about it… Jesus came to earth and washed the feet of sinners! The all powerful, all-knowing, Son of God humbled himself to clean dirty stinky feet! So, I ask you, how can you use your home to seek out the lost and invite them in? How do you make your house feel like their home? That they’re the guest of honor.
As a church with multiple sites in many cities and four different states, it is not uncommon to host someone who has yet to become your friend. Hosting friends, or more importantly non-believing friends is common (or at least it should be very common). The story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) is one of my favorites when it comes to hosting. I’d like to think I’m Mary but more often than not, I’m Martha. There is a big difference between entertaining and hosting though. Jen Schmidt, author of Just Open the Door: How One Invitation Can Change a Generation, says it best:
The entertaining host seeks to elevate herself, to make it about them. When the guest arrives, the entertainer announces, “Here I am. Come into my beautiful abode and have the honor of partaking of all the wonderful things I’ve spent hours getting done for you. How fortunate for you to be here.” Hospitality is different. Biblical hospitality offers our best to Him first, understanding that our best to others will then fall into place. When the hospitable hostess swings wide the door, all her attention focuses outward: “You’re here! I’ve been waiting for you. No one is more important today than you, and I’m thrilled you’ve come.”
Martha wanted to entertain Jesus. “See how hard I’m working for you Jesus. My sister should be helping with the dishes right now too. I cooked, she needs to clean.” Or “Jesus, I’m cooking my signature dish for you. It will be delicious!” Rather than just sitting with Jesus and listening to him. The dishes can always be left for another time and food is only temporary. Mary wanted to host Jesus. She sat at his feet and listened.
The dinner party and the impromptu hang out
As a church, a family on mission, with lost friends and family, what are some practical ways for us to extend hospitality?
For those of you who know Myers-Briggs, I am a strong J. I like to plan things, and I like to plan them at least a month in advance. If I can send paper invites (yes, paper), even better! I tend to lean towards the strategic dinner parties. It’s not uncommon for me to throw a Murder Mystery Party or a 3 course dinner with 2 plates, 5 pieces of silverware (hint you start on the outside of your silverware and work inward), and a napkin to put in your lap when you sit down (because etiquette… welcome to adulthood). I love these type of parties because they’re unusual for our generation (and the ones following us) so they create new/memorable experiences.
Strategic dinner parties give control over the invite. It is not to purposely leave people out, as that is wrong and sinful. It means that you invite a couple non-believing (NB) friends and you blast all of your believing friends with texts (and in person conversations) leading up to the party to ask them to make your NB friends feel welcomed and a part of the group. It creates more stickiness and doesn’t force the outgoing/evangelistic people to be the only ones to connect with them. Everyone is accountable to being like Jesus to your NB friends by loving and accepting them. In the end, everyone ends up connecting with everyone in small groups and as a large group.
Another benefit of the strategic dinner party is that you can have lots of food! It is totally okay to make it a potluck and ask guests to bring food. If you want to do all the cooking and prep, that’s fine, but if someone offers to bring something, take them up on it. It is a gift that they want to give. If they don’t have a specific dish in mind, suggest soda, or finger food/appetizer, or dessert.
The problem with the dinner party, specifically for myself, is that it can become entertaining rather than hosting, more like Martha rather than Mary. I have some friends that are excellent at the impromptu hangouts. Here’s some things I’ve learned from them:
Come one, come all. It doesn’t matter if you’ve met them before or not, their door is open to everyone within earshot of the invite. You can bet that the family will be there to welcome you at the door with a “hello” and “come on in”. The dress code is come as you are. I have been invited to their place in my Sunday best and at my worst. The single greatest thing that I’ve felt from their impromptu hosting is that I’m a part of the family. Grace is extended to me and there are no expectations. I know that I am welcomed. Nothing says family like, “Hey! Come over and hang with me and my friends. My place may be a little messy and I don’t have much food, but whatever is in my house is yours.” It may not be perfect, but neither is life and that’s what we all know best. The impromptu hangouts don’t require food, only a glass of water and an open invitation, but offering whatever is in your cupboard makes them feel more welcomed/important.
Jesus called us to live on mission, to love God and love others. What better, and easier, way can we do this than to invite people into our homes and feed them? Open up your house. Open up your life. Keep it simple. Serve others. Put your guests’ needs above your own. It doesn’t have to be much. Jesus just brought Himself to the table and if we can bring Jesus to our table with our friends, both believing and non-believing, I’d say we’re doing life-on-life together pretty well. So I challenge you to open your house. During the next two weeks either set up a dinner for your non-believing friend(s) or invite people over after church for lunch or a late night snack. I promise you that you will be blessed more than you have blessed others.
Click here for practical tips and Biblical resources about hospitality!