Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Jesus Table

When Jesus was at table in Levi's house, many bad characters - tax-gatherers and others - were seated with him and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some doctors of the law who were Pharisees noticed him eating in this bad company, and said to his disciples, ''He eats with tax-gatherers and sinners!" Jesus over-heard and said to them, "It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick; I did not come to invite virtuous people, but sinners."  (Mark 2:15-17)

GERMAN PRIEST, Father Sieger Koder has depicted these few gospel verses here with an almost childlike, simplicity. "Keep it simple," AA says. And Jesus, in inviting us to be childlike before God, enjoins us to religion that is simple, unadorned and accessible. Too often we take Jesus' simple approach to God, a religion of the table where bad characters gather to eat, and twist  it into a religion that is dense, remote and dull - more suited to the lecture hall or library.

Notice that Jesus is invisibly at the center. He is seated at the viewer's end of the table. The assembled guests are looking at him. We see only his hands offering the bread and wine. Here's the new presence of Jesus - in the Holy Food.

At the far left are these (literally) sketchy figures. Are these the religious Pharisees - the doctor's of the law who sniffed at Jesus eating with undesirables?They appear ghostly, floating off in the dark corner, far from the light source which is Jesus and the open window with the fresh air and new vista. God keep us!

Perhaps the cut flower in the vase at the center of the table signifies that this is a prepared and celebratory meal. The fellow on the right has a broken arm. He is nearest to Jesus who has called himself the doctor. We all need a doctor for what ails us most deeply. We're all limping along or impaired in some spiritual-psychological way. Something needs to knit together again, repair, heal, mend. We might not even know to name it, but we know something is wrong or not well.

The woman sitting next to him is holding her head in her hand. Is she tired? Perhaps so tired that she needs her left arm to add even further support. This kind of tired isn't synonymous with bored or sleepy, but a deep inner fatigue or malaise. A whole family, parish, community, country can live like this for a very long time.

And the fellow next to her wears glasses. All human sight is impaired - we don't see deeply or we see things wrongly: judgments and assessments blinded by our politic or prejudices, upbringing or wrong-headed teaching.

And a clown sits directly opposite Jesus at the other end of the table: Is this God's foolishness  coming into the world in Christ who will be rejected even to our own time until the end? Or is the clown there to remind us that we wear masks, or as Father Koder says, "We're all fools."

Then there is the figure that is bent and covered over. It is a person full of shame, who cannot even lift her/his head. We might think of a life-moment from even years ago, the memory of which causes us to put our heads down. And of course, there are people all around the world who carry great shame: persons of caste, throw away people, people who have been manipulated, exploited and enslaved. An analyst I know who worked for some years with transgender-ed clients in New York City told me that these people are the most damaged. They're at the Jesus table.

Then there's the lady in the red dress and long hair, who perhaps wears too much makeup. In Jesus' time the word sinner most often meant prostitute. Thoroughly compromised persons are prostituted. A professional soldier who will fight on any side so long as he's paid is a prostitute. A priest who no longer believes or cares but wears the holy clothes, says the holy words  and goes through the motions is prostituted.  They're at the Jesus table.

Finally there's the old fellow whose eyes are vacant and  black. His head is tilted in a confused way. Is he "all there" we ask? He's at the Jesus table.

This little gospel scene of three verses defines the way of Jesus: God has turned to us and opened himself to us totally in Christ. It's not a smoking, quaking mountain anymore, but a table of the simplest fare, with all of humanity gathered there around Jesus. Not just, (not even)  the law-abiders - but the ones who know deeply their most frail, most broken, most reduced, most ashamed selves.


  1. We all hope to sit at the table with Jesus. He welcomes all, even those of us who feel less than worthy. It is a blessing to know this, even though I am not able to open myself up to him and change for the better. He sees my distress and that is enough for now. I seek comfort in his love but lurk with those shadowy figures in the background.

  2. Thank you for pointing these things out to us. I usually miss the symbolism.

  3. If you don't mind my saying, it sounds to me as if you're not so much with the ghostly, sketchy people in the shadowy corner - but are among the shoulder to shoulder folks around the table. Do a little meditation - imagine yourself squeezing in at the table - even nudge your way in and make the eye contact with Jesus. The fellow with the broken arm or the glasses would surely understand. The woman all bent over and covered up. Pick up your head and see!

  4. Our hearts should be led by mercy, and not be double-minded. We are so judgmental and are quick to cast stones or swing the sword to cut people down. Jesus reached out to the outcasts, the lepers, the prostitutes, the lame that couldn't walk and the blind that couldn't see. He died for the least of us, and I am humbled to even think that I may one day be at the feet of Jesus asking for forgiveness for being the sinner that I am. Father, your reassurances bring me one step closer to believing that salvation can be given if asked for in pure honesty. I so want your words to be true.

    1. Doesn't the world need some good news? Gospel means "good news". I love the Mass Preface to the Feast of the Sacred Heart: "To his open heart the Saviour invites all people to draw water in joy from the spring of salvation." ALL people.

  5. What a clever way this artist has been inspired to portray the message of Christ.