Recently I read The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight.
When asked by an expert in the law where to begin with spiritual formation, McKnight explains that Jesus answered by giving the Jesus Creed. But Jesus amends the sacred creed of Judaism found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the Shema, and he adds Leviticus 19:18:
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one, Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is not greater command.
In essence, Jesus adds to the Love-God-Shema and makes it the Love-God-and-Others-Shema.
One of the central images Jesus used to depict loving others was a table. While Jesus wanted the table to create an inclusive society, many people used it to divide societies. For example, consider the ways Jews proved their dedication to Torah (religious law): They ate only with those who were pure, and ate only what was kosher.
Can you imagine the looks on the devout Jews’ faces when they learned he snacked with sinners? I can imagine their fear and anger.
Jesus turned the Jews’ world upside down by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan:
Your neighbor is everyone you despise.
Jesus was creating a new society. Not one that was exclusive, but one that was inclusive.
McKnight says, “What Jesus wants his table customs to reveal is that the table is an open door for others to enter and not a thick wall between people.”
As I pondered this, a Dr. Seuss story came to mind:
One day a Samaritan entered the church I attend. He was honest about the reason he was coming — to gather facts for a news story.
Years later he told me something surprising about that visit. He said he had been extremely nervous to attend the Bible study for three reasons:
First, he was gay. Second, he was a reporter. Third, in an effort to fit in, he brought a Bible but it was a Catholic one that includes several additional books to the Protestant one. He felt lost and out of sorts.
He later told me, “You leaned over and shared your Bible with me.”
I don’t remember. He can’t forget.
Though my friendship with him certainly bothers people in my church, what they think doesn’t matter. I’ve had front row seats watching someone sit down at the table, even though he’s been told he’s not welcome.
I’ve seen love enlarge his heart. And his kindness enlarge my heart.
This man has been one of my biggest encouragers as I wrote my book (to be published March 2013 with Abingdon Press). He is kind and gentle, and one of the safe people in my world.
I am happy to dine with him, and we are both honored to have our knees pulled up together at God’s big dinner party.
How I wish I had hundreds of other stories like this to share. Unfortunately I haven’t always treated people as if the table was set for them. I’ve been guilty of rejecting people because they smell, talk too much, or because they have too many problems.
Jesus, lover of the Star-bellied Sneeches,
Jesus, lover of those with no stars upon thars,
Thank you for loving us. Help us to love others whose bellies are different from ours.