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Open table fellowship

6 March 2013


Anthropologists tell us that, 'to know what, where, how, when and with whom people eat is to know the character of their society.'

Jesus’ stories of the open table fellowship of the Kingdom are shocking. He tells of invitations to meals that do not map against class, gender, status or moral worth.

He acted out his own teaching, eating with men and women of any and every station, ignoring distinctions. And he is fiercely criticised, with his enemies implicitly suggesting he is no better than those he associates with.

The Pharisees in particular clashed with Jesus. In an attempt to keep the purity of Jewish life they had taken all the dietary and purity rules applicable to the Priests and Temple practice and adapted them to the table of the home.

In the process they effectively cut off the majority of the peasants of Galilee and Judaea from their circle of holiness, since they could not give the time and effort needed to maintain such ritual practices. 

  • Jesus was not primarily calling individuals to private acts of faith, but whole village communities'

Jesus locates the centre of God's people differently, outside of holy spaces. Jesus’ meals become rituals of reversal, challenging the received wisdom of the religious and social elites, and they effectively witness to the breaking in of God's reign among the very people that the practices exclude. 

The context for the Lord's Prayer is villages where people are hungry and in debt to one another. It is to village communities broken by economic pressures and misplaced ritual requirements that Jesus addresses his ministry and teaching and sends his disciples to work.

Their presence is to be a help, not a burden, and their message comes without hidden cost attached. Jesus was not primarily calling individuals to private acts of faith, but whole village communities to a renewed and healthier shared life under the Father God's reign.

The appeal for daily bread speaks of ever-present commonplace hunger. When their harvest fails they starve. When their overlords call in too much produce they starve.

When resources grow limited they resort to loans. With loans from neighbours the assumption is they will be paid back interest free as and when possible.

But when all are without surplus then loans have to be made from their landlords, whose interest rates are extortionate. Unable to meet repayments they have to mortgage their land and all too often forfeit it.

Families are broken up, children are sold as debt slaves, men become wandering day labourers, without shelter or family networks to support them and with increasingly short life expectancies.

The petitions of the Lord's Prayer address this reality and speak of an alternative equitable use of resources. It teaches that there is an alternative! It is a call to a renewed communal life, starting from the local, capable of resisting the powerful political and economic forces that would undermine it.

David McLoughlin, Newman University College, Member of CAFOD’s Theological Reference Group.


Break the bread, Lord

The day’s work done, we gather now to eat.
Some of us have plenty.
Some hunger still.
Break the bread, Lord, and say the blessing.

This is the time for fellowship and sharing,
some of us secure,
some worried still.
Break the bread, Lord, and say the blessing.

This is the time to think about our family,
large and scattered now
but at one table, still.
Say the blessing, Lord, and break the bread.
For you give it to us, so that we all may eat.

Prayer by Sue Allerton/CAFOD.


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