Little gives me more joy than hanging out with my friends. I love to laugh, have deep conversations and share food & wine. It’s where I relax, recharge and unwind and what I’ve most recently discovered is that God knows this, loves this about me and wants me to enjoy it!
So, I guess it’s no surprise that I’ve found myself leading a ministry that incorporates just that; hanging out with friends. What a joy it is to serve the Lord in such a natural capacity and to be doing the same things that Jesus did.
You see, Jesus loved to eat with his friends, and as described in Matthew 9v10, many others enjoyed eating with him too: “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.” Whilst Jesus enjoyed time spent with friends, he invited others to join in, and made them feel at ease. For me this is the crucial part; he made them feel at ease, they were, in fact, ‘reclining’.
How many times have you been to someone’s house upon invite, and felt a little awkward? It’s not that you feel unwelcome, it’s just that perhaps the host isn’t a close friend, there are others there you don’t know, or you feel bad because you didn’t bring pudding. Either way, we’ve all experienced it, and it’s uncomfortable.
In the example above, Jesus is reclining, his best mates (disciples) are reclining, and so are all his guests. That suggests harmony and comfort to me, along with a warm and open welcome. But how is that achieved?
Firstly, Jesus was a chilled out host. He was reclining at the table! When you’ve got a chilled out host who isn’t worried about the potatoes burning or the meat going dry, you don’t tend to worry about them either, and enjoy the atmosphere of peace and tranquility. On the contrary, if your host is stressed and uptight it causes a knock on effect. The company of the stressed is never at peace, am I right?
Secondly, there were no expectations. I doubt Jesus had a guest list and invited just the right people who he thought would get along together and make for a good evening. The evening detailed seems to involve an eclectic group of characters, but all are at peace and have come as they are. The sinner didn’t disguise as a saint, the tax collector didn’t lie about his job, they all knew their place and sat with Jesus at ease. I know for sure, if I was sitting with the CEO of my company, I would certainly not put my hands behind my head and recline at his table! I would likely try to be someone I’m not and afterwards leave full of worry that I hadn’t impressed. However, in this house, there are no pressures to make the evening a success, no after dinner entertainment or in fact purpose to the occasion, it is simply to hang out together, no pretences.
Thirdly, Jesus could be inclusive. Often if you are new to a group of people, you will feel like an outsider to begin with, eager to impress, or at the very least be accepted. With Jesus, all are welcome, and equally as everyone else. Now this doesn’t mean to say being exclusive is a bad thing, it can actually be positive in many ways, but to allow the socially unacceptable to recline with you and your close friends, to me, is a message of openness and acceptance which I totally wish to emulate.
So, today as I write, I’m not Jesus, and I don’t know any tax collectors, but what I do know is this: reclining at a table, in a house, with friends, is one of the most pleasurable and beneficial things a man can do. This week, for example, I’ve had the pleasure to do just that! I hosted strangers for food, welcoming people I didn’t know and attempted to put them at ease. We ate lots, laughed lots and did it all in acceptance without expectations. As part of our International Cafe community group, we invite those from overseas into our homes to share our culture and to offer the love of Jesus. By loving others, and following the example of Jesus, we experience joy!
In John 15v11-12 Jesus says: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus knew how to enjoy life, and he knew the ways to do it. He knew where the rich pleasures of life were found and some of them, surprisingly, were in the simplest of blessings. As we at The International Cafe love one another and hang out and eat, we’re both serving the needs of our international friends by giving them space to safely practice their English language and giving them friendship and acceptance, but we’re also receiving much ourselves. Thank you Jesus.