In the days before video games, we had tabletop games that were a lot of fun despite their built-in shortcomings. We had an electric football game with a vibrating field; sometimes, the players would go in circles or simply stop in place. There was a hockey game with long rods that were pushed and pulled to make players advance or retreat, then spun to make them whirl and shoot; occasionally, the puck would wind up in a dead space on the board.
At those moments, you had two choices: Call a timeout, or raise your legs a bit to tilt the table and get the player or the puck headed in the other direction.
Naturally, this was frowned upon. It was seen as cheating — giving yourself an advantage. If you got caught raising the table, you were penalized. A tilted table was considered unfair.
In real life, we all sit at tilted tables.
In virtually every society and economic system, there are people who consider themselves privileged and use their clout to game the system in overt and subtle ways. Laws, tax codes, courts, social norms, cultural requirements — all get twisted to benefit a percentage of the people.
Religion gets pulled into the table-tilting, too. The rich and privileged have historically justified their wealth and power by calling it a reward for being better than everyone else, more industrious than everyone else, more deserving than everyone else.
They have God’s favor. You do not. Therefore, you must do what they want and try to be more like them.
It’s one of our oldest human traditions.
Commoners were told they should genuflect to royalty and be thankful for their beneficence. Slaves were told they were better off being treated as property because they were too ignorant to live freely. Women were told to stay at home because they were too weak to participate in running their society. Black people were told they didn’t deserve equality because they were inferior and lazy. Employees were told they didn’t deserve a better wage because their hard work wasn’t important.
Don’t we hear the same things being said today in numerous ways? You’re either rich or lazy. The well-off are too big to fail, while everyone else is too small to matter. The poor and unemployed are just irresponsible. The person asking for help is a moocher.
Every society has its contrarians — some call them prophets — who have the courage to try to make the table more level. Invariably, they get a strong push-back from those who sit at the favored end and have everything sliding into their laps.
That’s how it goes with our human tables. They’re all tilted in various ways and various degrees.
So, what about God’s table?
It’s tempting to think that God’s table is level, but our religious traditions tell us that’s not the case. God’s table is tilted, too — in the other direction.
It tilts toward the weak, the needy, the hurting, the outcast. It’s arranged so that we will share everything and care for those who have little or nothing in front of them. It encourages us to welcome the stranger and provide for the widow and the orphan.
Those who are guests at this table are told to feed anyone who is hungry without asking whether they’re worthy, provide drink without judging whether they deserve it. And while you’re at it, give one of your coats to the person sitting next to you who has none.
Those who are first must consider themselves last, and the last must be treated as first. All expectations and norms get turned upside-down so that that everyone will have enough.
Some revolutionary invitation, eh?
Everyone has a place at God’s table, but we have to place our hands beneath it and make it tilt toward those who have the least. Make it tilt away from those who are convinced that they deserve the most.
Are we willing to sit down and lend a hand?