My mother used to tell me that table symbolized family. We had lots of friends, family and guests who sat at our table my mother set. Some of our family members were not that great in my view. But my mother would say, no matter what they are or how, they are going to sit at our table and we are going to be nice to them sharing and listening.
Sometimes we didn’t have a lot to share with our guests, but still we gave them all we had in our kitchen, and we ate what was left over. All those who sat at our table were considered people whom we could not judge because they are honored guests and would say, remember the story of Jean Waljean? Christ comes in different forms and specially at the table. She would say, open your eyes and ears. Christ may be talking.
We had some “servants” at home when we grew up. We didn’t have a lot of money to pay them, but since they were poorer than us and didn’t have a lot to eat if they got something to eat they were glad to work for us. In the culture people called them “servants” because they worked for us. They cooked our meals, cleaned our house and did the laundry sometimes. (By the way that is what my mother did everyday. So that is not an excuse for me or anyone to call others servants). At meal times they sat on the floor and we would sit at the table with our father. My mother used to say, it is alright to sit with them if we want to. We liked our “servants”. They used to be our friends and we loved them. We told them secrets and they told theirs. So we chose to sit with them on the floor where they had their plates and my mother would serve food for all. Of course she would say in secret she wanted to give us a better share of the food but since we sat with our “servants” we were all treated about the same at the “floor” which was our table. She said no one is servant in her house when we all ate the same food.
I had the fortune of sharing the table with those with leprosy, aids, abandoned children, unwed mothers, prostitutes, beggars, in a colony run by the sisters of Mother Theresa in India, and of course a table with Mother Theresa herself. I was a pastor sharing God’s table with 900 “lepers” who lived isolated in the southern part of India. This was one of the most painful experiences of my life, and that was because I saw myself better and I couldn’t and didn’t want to admit it my sins and failures! Several times I was blessed by my fellow priests at our table, deacons, bishops and archbishops. I also had an experience of sharing a meal with a national leader. We all ate the same food, laughed, talked and when we left, we were closer some way.
I used to live in a place called Chester, AR. This is a small town with lots of poor people. One day a few years ago, I decided to invite a few of my friends to share a meal with me. I told about 40 of my friends to bring one sandwich for themselves and one for another. Also I told them that they are free to invite any of their friends to come with them. To make the story short we had about 400 plus people gathered and we all ate had more sandwiches than we brought left over. We shared the table on the hilltop and there were all kinds of people in it, the sick, the sad, the rich, the poor, and of course all religious groups as well with all kinds of orientations and spirituality. But one thing that night we all became friends.
We were then reminded of the days when Jesus multiplied bread and fish. It must have been fun for Jesus to watch all kinds of people sitting at his table. Because He knew in his heart this meal shared at His table would be such a blessing for all present for they will see their own lives rather than of others around them.
Interestingly when Zacchaeus sat at the table with Christ he saw himself first, then Christ. Mathew saw himself as well and left everything to follow the Lord. Whem Mary Magdalene sat down to wash Jesus’ feet at the table of Simon, she saw her self too. So did Peter, and John. But Judas looked at himself and couldn’t take it. He walked away!
It fascinates me to see people and I always wonder why people walk away from sitting at the same table of plenty? What divides us? We have more in common than different. Who walks away from the table of God? Those who cannot see themselves. Not those who see others. But we might pretend that we are walking away because of someone else. In reality we are walking away because we are unable to face ourselves and our own smallness before the greatness of God. I find no more servants or lesser beings among the mortal men in this world, just children of God of all kinds. I wish we have the grace to acknowledge the truth.
This article was published in the Courier in Russellville, AR on 05/28/2010 (C) Fr. Jos Tharakan