Approaching the Table of Radical Grace



When I lived in Brussels, we used to celebrate American Thanksgiving every year, although neither my husband nor I are American. But one of my best friends was, and her tiny flat and countertop electric oven were too small for the people she wanted to invite and the turkey she wanted to cook.

So we did a deal (I thought it was a pretty good one): she would cook all the food; we would provide the venue. She always arrived hours in advance, a massive turkey purchased from a nearby army base. Sweet potatoes were topped with brown sugar, green beans were made into casserole.

Once darkness gathered outside the windows, our guests began to arrive. It was always such an international group—we were British, Belgian, Danish, Romanian, Dutch, French, Bosnian, Argentinean.

And so we gathered around our long table—the one my husband had impulse-purchased from an antique store in the Sablon district—and I looked down the length of it at the faces of friends who’d all come from far away and for myriad reasons, but who had ended up sharing this feast of thanksgiving together.


We lived just down the road from a Refugee Centre in those days. We got to know their faces, taught English classes, and hosted social events to break up some of their daily monotony and worry. I heard the heartbreaking stories of Somalians, Chechynans, Eritreans, Iranians.

I held a newborn Afghani baby in my arms the day after she was born, while her tired relieved mother hugged her proud big sister and her Father told me about the time they were shot at as they tried to escape with their four-year-0old daughter across a remote mountain border.

We became friends with a young man who’d left his country years before, fleeing forced inscription into its deadly army. But he’d not found refuge, had been nomadic for so long, hiding and leaving place after place after place.

He came every week to the church group that met in our home. He was an atheist—that much he was very sure of—but still he came. He’d join in the pre-chatter, pour himself a drink, and then sit at the dining table watching us while we prayed and sang and wrestled with our questions.

One Sunday we were walking across the square near our home and I asked him, “Why do you keep coming when you are so sure you don’t share our beliefs and never will?”

He looked at me and answered, “I met Christians once when I first left my home country and they welcomed me as a friend. Now everywhere I go, I seek out the Christians. I know I can trust them.”


Jesus once proclaimed to his followers, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 8:11, NIV)

It’s easy to read a passage like that and think we understand what that will look like. But the people gathered at this heavenly feast will be the unexpected ones, the outsiders, the refugees, the ones we label as “Other” (yes, even those of us who think we avoid labelling). And it will be beautiful in a way only a celebration of the lost-ones-found can ever be.

It’s an attractive vision, one I caught a glimpse of at those Thanksgiving feasts around our dining table, and in the faces I came to know so well on our street in Brussels.

But there is a challenge too. Jesus’ proclamation of welcome comes with a warning to those who assume they are already in: “Those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.” (Matt 8:12, MSG)

It’s not about offering more hospitality. That’s where I thought this post was going—Remember this year to welcome the outsider. Make an extra portion of pumpkin pie. No. The truth is, when I think like that, then I’ve got it backwards—as if I have everything to offer and nothing to gain, everything to give and nothing to receive.

This feast is not about me making space for the Other. God has already beckoned them toward the seat of honor. This feast is not about charity. God doesn’t invite the foreigner, the disabled, the addict, the abused, because he wants to feel better about himself.

This feast is about God’s radical grace, the way that he calls us to profound Abundance, which is perfect justice. This feast is God’s commandment to Love.