Fear Of The ‘Other’

I remember, back in the early 2000s, soon after getting engaged to Kathi, being invited around to have a meal as a couple to a married couple’s home. They were, in fact, the first people in the church I’d only recently become a part of, to reach out to us as a newly engaged couple and ask us over for dinner.

I recall asking Kathi numerous times: Why are they doing this? I don’t know them, you don’t know them well. Why would they do such a thing for us? What if we don’t have anything in common? What will we talk about? What will we have to eat?!

So many questions. But I wasn’t used to people doing this kind of thing for me. I didn’t grow up in a culture where people just did stuff for strangers because they wanted to be friendly and to get to know you. To a degree, I was suspicious of their intentions and went along with a little trepidation and a fear of the other.

To put your minds at ease with this little example, these people have become very dear people to us and, indeed, our closest friends. Our children have grown up with theirs, and as a family, we’re definitely richer for knowing them.

And all because we were invited around for dinner. 

The power of eating together should never be underestimated. Being in someone’s home and eating with them breaks down barriers. Maybe it’s because you’re in their environment and you’re at the mercy of what they have to offer. If you’re willing to engage, there’s so much to be gained simply by spending time with people in their world.

Jesus knew the power of eating together. Throughout the New Testament, He seems to be always asking people to eat with Him. On several occasions Jesus compels them to invite Him in. He seeks out the other, and often the other is someone whom society has deemed unworthy, unclean, or despised either for what they do or solely for who they are. Jesus was so sure of who He was and His mission, and so compelled with love for people, that fear didn’t have a part to play in how He related to others.

In the Bible, in the Books of Acts, we read of a situation where food brought two very different cultures together. It tells us that the Apostle Peter falls into a trance and is spiritually taken to another place. This place presents him with a vision of something resembling a large linen tablecloth that descends from above covering the whole Earth. As it floats down, he sees many kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles, and wild birds. A voice tells him to prepare the animals for eating, but Peter responds that these animals are unclean and a Jew can’t do such a thing. The voice replies that if God has made it clean, it is now clean.

After this little episode, Peter is greeted by a bunch of people asking him to come and visit a friend of theirs – a Roman captain, Cornelius. Cornelius had experienced a vision of an angel who’d told him to summon Peter to his home

When Peter arrives at Cornelius’s home, we’re told that Cornelius tries to worship Peter, but Peter tells him to stand, explaining that he’s no different to him. Peter’s original vision and his interpretation of it has led him to take what is quite a radical step!

Let me share with you what it says in chapter 10 of Acts, and we come in where the Roman soldier is finishing off his story to Peter as to why he called for him:

“Here we are, all of us in God’s presence, anxious to hear the message that God has put into your heart to share with us.” Peter said, “Now I know for certain that God doesn’t show favouritism with people but treats everyone on the same basis. It makes no difference what race of people one belongs to. If they show deep reverence for God, and are committed to doing what’s right, they are acceptable before him.”

Here we have an example of someone overcoming prejudice, elitism and fear of the other to come to their table and eat with them. But not only that, we see that Cornelius has prepared a situation where his group also want to hear and learn from him, a Jew – this is rare! 

A Jew and a gentile (which simply means someone not Jewish), eating together, sharing understanding and learning from one another. For this time and for these different cultures, this is an astonishingly beautiful interaction.

Where are you overcoming your fear of the other to listen to their words and hear their story? Who are you inviting to dinner?

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