My Life

Who is at Your Table?

Being foreign is being something (or someone) that is different, unfamiliar, or unknown. Naturally, our response to something foreign is to be cautious and put up a wall. We do this because we want to protect ourselves. God knows this. He wants us to be protected, but He also calls us into the unknown. He invites us to understand those who are different from us and to invite them to our table.

It was not too long ago that I felt foreign. I was in another country on a trip with a couple of friends. We were enjoying our time as tourists, but we also knew that we were foreigners. Not everyone there was happy we were there. One evening, we were out a little too late in an area that was not for tourists. It was dark, and we needed to find a place to eat before we could head back home.

I was nervous and uncomfortable. To be honest, I was scared.

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I knew that I was foreign. I did not belong. I knew that the locals thought the same thing by how they looked at us. It was dark, and we were three tourists in a neighborhood that we should not have been in. We rushed along and finally found our way to a market with a few places to eat. Despite the stares from locals, we dove into the first place we saw and took a seat. We were able to make our order and then I slipped into the bathroom. When I got back, there seemed to be a commotion at the table. There was a man looming over our table trying to tell my companions something. I was worried that something was wrong. After all, everyone in the restaurant had been looking at us since we sat down. I spoke the language better than my companions, so I approached the table and asked the man what was wrong.

What happened was incredible.

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The man explained to me that his mother, a few tables over, had sent him to invite us to eat with them. “Vengan, y coman con nosotros,” he said, “Come and eat with us.” I was taken aback. Evidently, the mother had seen that one of my companions had not ordered food. So, she bought our meals and welcomed us to eat with them at their table in a place we felt as though we did not belong. I will never forget it.

As I think about it now, I think of the parable of the great feast in Luke 14:12-24. I can hear Jesus say to me, “come and eat at the table of plenty, there is room for you at the table.”

“Me?” I think, “how could there be room for me, a person who does not belong, and who could never repay such a gift?”

Jesus invites everyone to His table, especially those who do not feel worthy, those who feel like they do not belong. However, He does not stop there. He challenges us to do the same. He challenges us to invite the broken, the sinner, and the foreigner to our table as well.

Borders

Right now, in the United States, there is strife regarding the foreign. Specifically, we are being confronted with issues regarding immigration policies and the rights of immigrants — both illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. The government is challenged with creating policies that protect national interests, but also serve the humanity of immigrants and asylum seekers. On one hand, immigrants seek a chance for a better life. On the other hand, our nation seeks a balance between protecting its own interests and aiding immigrants.

The Church speaks to this present-day reality in her teaching that, “the more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (Catechism 2241). Simply put, this is the Church’s calling to those nations who are more fortunate to aid those who are in need to the extent that they are capable. On an individual level, you and I can practice this by making an intentional effort to help others, especially when it is someone we do not like or when we feel like it is not our problem.

The Church also says that “immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens” (Catechism 2241). Again, what does that mean and how can it be applied in real life? Well, this is the second part of the previous call from the Church. Here, the Church is telling those who are receiving aid to respect and not take advantage of the people helping them. Again, on an individual level, we can respond to this teaching living lives of gratitude and thanking those who go out of their way for us, even if they don’t do exactly what we may have had in mind.

Now, all of this talk about how this plays out on both national and individual levels leads to the big question: who do we give a seat at our table? In other words, who do we welcome and who do we reject? This is not just a question for nations about their borders. This is a question that each of us must answer about the people we welcome and reject in our own life.

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Christ’s Call to Welcome

Grappling with this issue, I think back to Christ’s call in my heart: “come and eat at the table of plenty, there is room for you at the table and you cannot nor must repay.” It makes me think about the mother and son who invited my friends and me to eat with them when they had no obligation to do so. The effort and love that they gave us –– strangers –– is exactly the type of effort and love that God wants us to give.

Has someone unexpected ever gone out of their way for you? How did that make you feel? Have you ever gone out of your way to help someone who would not expect it? Maybe you have, or maybe –– like most people –– you have only ever helped people you know, people on your side. Helping others can be hard, especially if they are foreign to us or we do not agree with them.

From Luke 15:1-2, I think of how Jesus welcomed to the table those who were outcast. I think about how in Christ’s time, nobody welcomed tax collectors. They hated them. But why? Well, they hated tax collectors because of what they did, because of their job.

They hated an entire group of people, without taking the time to really understand who they were, just because of one thing about them.

Pause and think about that.

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Are we doing the same thing today? Are we casting off an entire group of people: immigrants or any other group we consider foreign because of a particular aspect of who they are?

Who have you decided to cast off –– or even to hate –– because of one characteristic that they share? Is it immigrants, homosexuals, other religious groups, a friend or family member, or somebody else? Why have you rejected them? Is it because they are different? Is it because of fear, distrust, anger, ignorance, or something else? Is it is because they have cast you off? Has someone cast you off because of one aspect about you?

Whoever it is –– and whatever the reason –– I encourage you to consider how you have denied them a seat at your table. I encourage you to invite Christ to help you change that. I challenge you to break down the borders you have put up to reject any person or group and follow Christ’s model of inviting all to join Him at His table.

I challenge you.

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Practice accepting those you disagree with or who are different from you. Practice taking the time to understand their perspective. Practice respecting everyone despite your differences. Practice going out of your way to help people in need that you have no obligation to help. Welcome the unwelcomed; invite them to your table. Be like the family who welcomed me when I did not belong.

Always remember that God has a place for all of His children at the table. It does not matter where they come from or how different they may seem from us. For as we know from the Gospel of Luke: “People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

About the Author

Brendan J. Hagan

I’m a broken but joyful disciple of Christ. I’m also a Michigander, a son, and a brother. I love spending time with my family and saying yes to God’s will. If I’m not with my twin, Michael, I’m likely away from home practicing my Spanish and sharing the Good News.