John 13:21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”
26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
“What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
In the time of Jesus, as it is in the middle east still today, eating together meant much more than it does to us. In the busy west eating has been hijacked. Either it is about fast food, just trying to take more than enough calories to survive. Or else it is about fine dining, where all the attention is on the flavours and the textures and most people couldn’t care less who they are sitting next to.
In first century Palestine people ate together for much more important reasons than that. You wouldn’t eat with strangers – they might break all kinds of dietary laws and that would render a religious Jew ritually unclean. So sharing food became a sign of fellowship and closeness and unity. Conversely refusing to share what was called “table fellowship” with another person marked them out as somebody you considered to be an outsider.
Anthropologists tell us that, ‘to know what, where, how, when and with whom people eat is to know the character of their society.’
In the social world of Jesus’ day, meals together had four basic functions:
• To support kinship – to create solidarity. One ate with the clan and by doing so established the boundaries of who was “in” and who was “out.” Meals reminded the household where their loyalties lay.
. • To enforce boundaries – hierarchy, status, and gender – especially through seating arrangements. During these meals the social group was reminded who sat at the head of the table and who was at the foot
• To perpetuate social values, especially through religious meals
• To gain honor through hosting banquets or and clever conversation. The wealthy were able to show off as well as demonstrate benevolence to guests. The guests were able to show deference as well as entertain their host and other guests with wit or wisdom.
So meals were complex social events for building community. Eating together and who you shared table fellowship with was very important. There are no less than 19 references to eating together just in Luke’s Gospel and in Acts. So it is highly significant that in the Gospels we find Jesus time and again breaking with those Jewish conventions and sharing table fellowship with tax collectors and prostitutes. Even eating at the homes of Matthew and Zacchaeus who were both despised tax collectors. Connecting with the poorest and the lowest of society and defining who Jesus’s true family are.
So we come to the last and most important meal of Jesus’s life – the Passover meal on the night before he died. And one question fascinates me.
WHO ELSE WAS AT THE TABLE?
John – the disciple Jesus loved. But he was by no means perfect! It was John and his brother James, “the sons of thunder” who wanted to be given the places of greatest honour in the Kingdom of God, seated on Jesus’s right and on His left. So John wasn’t perfect!
Peter – who would disown Jesus. Within hours, before the cock crowed, Peter would deny that he knew Jesus not once, not twice but three times, to a servant girl and to a slave.
Thomas the twin – who would question the resurrection. Who wouldn’t believe until he had seen with his own eyes.
All the other apostles – who would run away and hide leaving only the women who would stay at Jesus’s side.
And Judas – who would betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas who would hand his Master and his Friend over to the Temple Guards, who would hand Jesus over to Pilate who would hand Jesus over to be crucified. And Jesus does not merely share the bread with Judas. Jesus actually dips the bread into the shared bowl and placed it into Judas’s mouth! Table fellowship indeed!
Who Jesus chose to share table fellowship with is immensely significant. And at the Lord’s Supper it was not the priests and the Pharisees. It was not the important people. It was his disciples who had been with him through three years. But more than that, it was ALL His disciples. Even Peter who was about to deny Him. Even Judas who was about to betray Him.
These are the kinds of people Jesus invites to His table. Which is just as well, because these are just the kind of people we are too!!
Romans 5 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.