Table talk

Proper 23 (October 12, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Is. 25:1-9; Ps. 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matt. 22:1-14

We spent the week in Iran with leaders from six Mennonite universities in Canada and the United States who are interested in exploring joint efforts with Iranian universities. Delegation members took turns writing blog entries about our daily activities and conversations.

Cindy and Daryl in Isfahan

We met administrators and academics from 12 educational institutions in Iran. Typically, we sat around large tables, eating delicious Iranian fruit and talking about how universities in Canada and the United States can develop relationships with schools in Iran.

The Mennonite and Muslim academics identified topics of mutual interest that could form the basis of future collaboration — including peace and justice studies, comparative studies of the Abrahamic traditions, and the study of English and Farsi languages.

We gathered at large tables to talk about future collaboration between schools

While many Iranian universities already have exchange programs and joint research projects with schools in other countries, many of the academics we spoke with would also welcome more collaboration with American and Canadian universities as well.

The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on gathering at tables and feasting.

Isaiah says that God will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples (Is. 25:6), destroy the shroud and sheet that is cast over all nations (v.7) and wipe away the tears from all faces (v.8).

David declares: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Ps. 23:5).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of a wedding banquet in which the invited guests refuse to come. Not to be dissuaded, the host orders his servants to go into the streets. They “gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Matt. 22:10).

The biblical vision is not simply of gathering at tables with our closest friends. Rather, tables provide a space where we can learn to know those who are different than us – even with those whom some would label as “our enemies.”

A typical bowl of fruit for each person at the table (photo by Harry Huebner)

In one of our meetings this week, an Iranian academic said that too many people today are sitting at the wrong tables. Rather than sitting around tables where we talk about justice and morality, too many people are sitting at tables where plans are laid for war.

We were blessed by Iranian hospitality this week. Eating at tables together afforded rich opportunities to see our common humanity. When we understand how much we share in common, we are much less likely to talk about war, and much more likely to dream together about a future of justice and peace.

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