In my previous two posts I suggested three perspectives from which we might view the table:
- Jesus on the Table–the sacrifical victim who nourishes us with new life
- Jesus at the Table–the hospitable host who welcomes all to the table
- Jesus serving the Table–the master who waits on tables
Today: Jesus Serves the Table.
Luke 22:24-30 is a fascinating text if for no other reason than that the disciples are arguing about who was the “greatest” in the kingdom while sitting at the same table with Jesus. Surely no believer ever does that anymore!
But another reason this text fascinates me is that the instruction here is also given by Matthew (20:20-28) and Mark (10:35-45) but at an entirely different moment in Jesus’ life. They both use it as a response to the sons of Zebedee (and/or their mother!) who requested a prominent place in the kingdom for her sons. Both Matthew and Mark contextualize the kind of service Jesus provides and models in his act of giving his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28). Luke puts a different spin on it.
Luke contextualizes this saying of Jesus by referencing the meal. While Matthew and Mark note that Jesus, unlike the kings and benefactors, serves others by dying for them, Luke notes that Jesus serves other by the way he conducts himself at the table. “For who is greater,” Jesus says, “the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
Jesus waits on tables; he served the table of his disciples. Perhaps, if we bring John 13 into this (which may not be good exegetical hermeneutics), we see this through his washing of their feet. Or, perhaps, Luke means that Jesus served as a deacon (a waiter) in this moment. He waited on the disciples as they sat at table. Jesus is a servant because he waits on tables.
I think this is exactly what Luke means and there is an earlier indication in the Gospel that this is his point. In Luke 12:33-40 Jesus tells a parable about a returning Master for whom the servants are watching. We might expect the parable to recount how when the Master returns, the servants will wait on him. But we get the opposite. When the Master returns, the Master prepares to serve, sits them at the table, and “waits (diakonesi) on them” (12:37).
What an eschatological portrait! When Jesus returns, the reigning King will serve the community of faith at table. The Messiah will be the waiter at the Messianic banquet! The wonder of that thought draws me to praise and adoration as well as gratitude.
We might find some rational comfort in thinking that as the Messiah incarnate in the flesh Jesus would demonstrate servanthood by waiting tables. That seems to fit–he did wash feet after all. But that in the eschaton Jesus is still waiting tables–that does not seem to fit….except that servanthood is the heart of God. When Jesus waits on tables, it reflects the kind of servant leadership that is part of God’s own nature. God is a servant and calls us to serve just Jesus served.
Waiting and serving tables. The chuch still does this in its assemblies as well as in its potlucks, service to the poor, and in our homes. Unfortuantely, however, serving the table in the assembly has often been equated with some kind of clerical or gender authority. Waiting tables belongs to all disciples as servants rather than any particular gender or class of clerics.
We are called to serve as Jesus served–giving his life for us but also waiting tables. It is a shame that some lay persons and most women are excluded form the latter while still expecting the former of them. It seems that the only tables most laity and women are not permitted to serve are those in the assembly of the church even while they are expected to serve all other tables. What a crying shame.