If I were to ask you what is the most important room in your house, which one would it be? If I were to ask you what piece of furniture was the most important in your home, what would you choose? I know that all families are different and we have to change and adapt as our life situation changes but the common thread woven weaved throughout our families and experience surely has to be our gathering for meals around the dining room table. The room where we share a meal and the table we gather around answer for me the question of the most important room in any house.
Being hospitable and the ability to sit around a table and share a meal and exchange the experiences of life is not something that automatically happens. We all know from experience that around the table, the strongest bonds of familiarity and love can develop, but also the deepest hatreds and animosities can simmer. There is a commitment required from each member of a family to make it work – from the youngest to the oldest. That commitment to “make it work” has the potential to transform the experience of the mundane daily meal into something sacred.
From biblical days, the potential of hospitality and what can happen around a table was recognised. Today’s first reading retells the story of Abraham and his wife Sarah and what happened when they were hospitable and shared their table with others. There they are, living their own lives and minding their own business, when three men appear out of nowhere. Hospitality is gladly provided for the strangers and a lavish meal produced. Only later did Abraham and Sarah recognize who it was that visited them and the wonderful consequences.
The same is true for the Gospel where we find Martha and Mary in a domestic dispute during the course of preparing a meal. It should not surprise us that Jesus is present at this meal for, after all, he did a remarkable amount of his teaching at table, during the course of a meal, surrounded by his disciples and those who were curious.
When we think of hospitality today we naturally think of the “hospitality industry” or hosting a dinner party or fast food at a sporting event. What perhaps doesn’t jump to mind is our long biblical tradition of seeing the daily meal and the people who gather around the table with us to share that meal as the very essence of hospitality and therefore, something sacred. As believers, it is part of our tradition!
To sit at a table with family and friends (and strangers), to share the experience of the day, to “give thanks for what we are about to receive”, and to recognize the common bonds that unite us and our God is probably something we take for granted when we rush to the dinner table. Yet, if there is one thing we can take away from this week’s Scripture it is the challenge that each of us has to “make it work”. In accepting this challenge, we potentially transform the experience of hospitality and meal time this week into something sacred.
Fr Peter Brannelly