As Jesus is out and about, teaching people regarding the kingdom of God, we often find Him “at table” with people.

In Luke 9, we hear the story of Zacchaeus. This man was short in stature. When Jesus was passing through Jericho amidst the crowd, Zacchaeus couldn’t see him. So, he climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view.

As Jesus walked by, he looked up and called for him to hurry down, because he was going to his house that day.

Now, Zacchaeus was a noted sinner – a tax collector and a cheat. He had wronged many people. But we don’t hear Jesus confronting him as such.

I can well imagine Zacchaeus’ surprise. Here, this well-known teacher was going to be at table with him in his own home!

Luke tells us that Zacchaeus repented of his wrongdoing and vowed to pay back more than he owed to those he had cheated. Jesus then proclaimed that salvation had come to that house that day.

Jesus’ action of visiting a sinner in his dwelling convinced Zacchaeus of his wrongdoing. It did not come from a lecture or accusation from Jesus.

The scribes and Pharisees would have leveled Zacchaeus for his corruption. These religious leaders could not understand Jesus. They had accused him of “eating with sinners.” And here he was, going to Zacchaeus’ house!

Herein lies the importance of being “at table” and welcoming people into our dwelling. Personally, I don’t believe true hospitality is accomplished by arranged community or church events. Yes, we can have great programs, but they don’t take the place of truly being “at table,” where stories and lives are shared with folks we barely know or don’t know.

Many of us love to serve at these events, and it is fun being among members of our community. But we do not share on a personal level, and frankly, it is hard to hear in the midst of the crowd. But at our home hearth, our table will not seat so many – only the stranger or sojourner.

True fellowship is not so much what we do for people but what we experience with another “at table,” sharing food and stories and lives.

I loved rural ministry in the heartland. You were always “at table” in some home. You experienced hospitality. You felt at home, sharing pictures and stories of prairie life, good humor and good news.

I have a childhood memory of my Uncle Cap, who is remembered in the Canadian Hall of Fame for his work in the Salvation Army. He opened up all of Western Canada to the Salvation Army in the early 20th century.

On Christmas Eve, he and my Aunt Maggie, another officer in the army, opened their home to the street people in Winnipeg. The family children would chuckle, as some of the men had a time of it holding the bone china cups. But the best china and silver were out, and a great feast was prepared.

It was a true welcoming banquet, because they believed they were eating with Jesus, who had come to their table. Once again, they could share and celebrate together the wonder of the Savior.

The Zacchaeus story tells us much about being “at table” in a home. Our call as disciples is not just to tell about Jesus and who He is, but to be Jesus to each other. We cannot share the good news simply by telling the gospel story or doing for others. It is not a “do for” but a “do with.”

To show who Jesus was, and is, is to be truly present for others and share on a personal level. What better way than to be “at table”?

Pastor Carole Shelby is a retired Lutheran (LCMC) pastor and a member of the Park Rapids Ministerial Association.