Ever noticed how many times in the gospels Jesus is pictured eating? Of course, there is the Last Supper and the wedding at Cana and the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus not only ate with Levi the tax collector and his sinner friends but also meals at the homes of Pharisees (11:37-54 and 14:1-24), Zacchaeus (19:1-10) and Martha and Mary. Christ even ate after His resurrection appearance on the Emmaus Road (24:30) and dined on freshly caught fish with His disciples on the seashore.
I bet most of those celebrations were joyful but noisy and messy as people crowded in small rooms, often on the floor, eating food prepared without modern appliances, cookware, utensils, refrigeration or even concerns about hygiene. While Jesus was enjoying these meals with the poor, sinners and tax collectors, the uptight religious of His day were appalled.
Mealtime at our house was rather chaotic as well.
Listen as I struggled to gather my crew every night for a family meal.
“Oh good, you’re done barn chores. Perfect timing; dinner is almost ready.”
“Two more minutes, everybody!”
“Joseph I’ll help after we eat, okay?”
“Mary, please run up and open Jean’s door and shut off the music.”
‘Dinner is ready!”
“Grace, I know you love that book sweetheart but, remember, no reading at the dinner table.”
“Honey, would you lift up Daniel into the high chair?”
“Are we all here? Anyone missing?”
Ah, dinner time in a large family.
Dinner was the highlight of the day with everyone clamoring to share their news or simply squeeze in comments into the cacophony of voices. It was a humorous symphony which sounded perfectly in tune to my ears. High pitched baby squeals combined with loud, boisterous little boys.and the quavering of a male teen voice balanced teenage girl’s chatter. Dad’s reassuring bass tones soothed my shrill calls for everyone to listen to the toddler’s newest word. The highlight of this often unruly symphony was the spontaneous laughter punctuating the entire meal.
Life around the dinner table was relaxed and happy because I allowed my children to behave in age appropriate ways. I did not demand adult perfection. The consequences of this decision were messy but well worth the time it took to mop up after meal time. It meant I did not shovel neat, tidy mouthfuls of food into a toddler because we let little people feed themselves as soon as they reached for the spoon. It meant including three-year-olds in meal prep, sending five and six-year-olds running out to the garden for vegetables and allowing a ten-year-old to make the dessert. In other words, we valued participation over a neat and tidy kitchen and orderly meal times.
Now I am reaping the rewards of decisions which sent some visitors into sputtering, spirals of incredulity as they eyed my kitchen and the messy faces of my little people after a meal. I feel vindicated when I look at my grown-up kids; they all love to cook and entertain, especially for each other. Just drop by for a quick hello and inevitably they will cajole you to stay for a delicious meal.
It is a simple fact- there is no better way to form deep relationships than conversation over a home-cooked meal. In fact, there is no better way to encourage the development of a warm supportive family than with great food and relaxed conversation around the dinner table.
God delights more in joyful chaos than in miserable, tight perfection.
connecting with theology is a verb