If we pay close attention to the way that Jesus conducted his ministry we see that he did many extraordinary things. “… (W)e know that Christ always exercised divine virtues through human acts. All his deeds, even those which he performed in his body, were proved to be new and beyond the practices of men.” (Saint Peter Chrysologus †450) If, however, you examine the details of how he did things you will quickly come to the observation that Jesus, more often than not, used ordinary things to accomplish extraordinary results. His first miracle involved common water jugs and anonymous servants, he healed a blind man using spit and mud, he converted a hostile crowd and transformed an adulteress by scribbling in the dust of the street with his finger. He used the occasion of a posh banquet to teach about mercy and forgiveness to an outcast woman who was reviled by the invited guests. It is clear that Jesus was constantly delivering the message that it is good to be human and that you needed no “special equipment” to actualize the kingdom of God on the earth. God is present in all things and all situations. He is not separate or “set apart” from our daily lives and activities.
One of the situations that Jesus participates in time and time again is one that is very humble and very human. In fact, this simple human activity proved to be the strong source of annoyance for the authorities of the day: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”. (Lk 15:3) Over and over again during his ministry Jesus sat down to have a meal. Some of his greatest work was accomplished during dinner. It becomes obvious that Jesus often uses the occasion of the ordinary to initiate the extraordinary! He had an innate understanding of how the latter is cloaked in the former. Jesus first miracle was during a meal and his last and greatest miracle was at a supper. Clearly we need to re-think the significance of taking a meal together.
What is it that is so powerful about sitting and eating together? In Roman times the way people dined was different than it is today. All people reclined and passed common dishes. One of the things that you couldn’t do in this particular position was to easily conceal a weapon. Dining together, then, was to willingly allow one’s self to be vulnerable. More than that, you had to allow yourself to be in close proximity with people you didn’t know and maybe even touch them! Dining together also forced you to be cordial with strangers as you shared the same food using nothing but a piece of bread for a utensil. At the dinner table you are forced to look each other in the eye. Dining with people you don’t know acquaints you in a way that nothing else does. Did you ever wonder why so much of diplomacy involves an endless stream of “state dinners”? In truth, dining together is quite an intimate experience unlike anything else that you can do with another person. Jesus was well aware of that.
So, as we go through every day life, what can we learn from Jesus’ example? First, we must come to the awareness that no experience that we have or participate in is insignificant, especially when it involves other people. All occasions are opportunities to show compassion, understanding, forgiveness and the love of God. As a matter of fact, some of these occasions might be the only opportunity we have to extend ministry or prayer to someone who needs it. When you are approached by that same beggar, one more time, do you lower your eyes and ignore them or do you greet them with respect and take a moment to silently pray for them? WWJD? When you are approached by that senior at church, one more time, do you listen with respect to the story you have heard a million times or do you rush away in a flurry of “fake busyness”? Next, do you really understand the power of “sharing a meal”? This simple act is an occasion of power in even the most unsuspecting situations! Do you want to help settle differences between people? Do you want to strengthen the work of a group that has been problematic? Do you want to acquaint strangers? Do you want to smooth over a rough situation? Do you want to create a sense of unity and settle differences in a community? Do you want to heal a broken friendship? Then share a meal together, talk, have a little wine, get to know each other in a non-threatening context. Jesus did this all the time. Have we simply missed the obvious? The occasion of eating together is a unique opportunity for ministry. Have dinner together, you’ll see things in a new way! The archetype of the last supper was not meant to simply be the picture of friends being together. It was the direct forerunner of: “I make all things new.” Take advantage of this very human activity that could well have divine consequences.
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