Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Levi gave a great banquet for Jesus in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complain[ed] to his disciples. – Luke 5:29-30a (NRSV)
It has been six years since Wanda Dench went viral for accidentally texting Jamal Hinton an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner at her house. Now every November, people on Twitter (and media outlets like The Washington Post and the Today show) wait with bated breath to see if their yearly tradition continues. Netflix is partnering with Hinton and “Grandma Wanda” to tell their warm-and-fuzzy story on the big screen.
Picture this: America. 2016. In July, a police officer shot 32-year-old Philando Castile at point-blank range during a traffic stop in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota; he later died. In October, a New York City police officer fired two bullets that killed 66-year-old Deborah Danner, who, distressed, had retreated to her bedroom to avoid the officers’ “wellness check” during her mental health emergency. That same November, Jamal Hinton, then a 17-year-old Black kid, exchanged those fateful messages with Wanda Dench, then a 58-year-old white grandmother. Though they soon realized they were strangers, Jamal still jokingly texted, “Can I still get a plate tho?” Wanda replied, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do…feed everyone.”
What a world this would be if it didn’t take a mix-up to feed everyone!
What if being in God’s presence wasn’t contingent on being a known quantity? When’s the last time a stranger sat at your dining room table? Being with Jesus had so transformed Levi that Levi deliberately invited all his tax collector friends (I get it…most of my friends are clergy!) to share one table with Jesus and crew. Jesus took it in stride: tables are for the hungry, and we all need food to live.
God, we were taught that closed mouths won’t get fed. Help us realize that closed tables can’t do the feeding. May every dinner invitation be a surprise encounter with your Divine image.
Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart is a Black queer preacher, teacher, and agitator. She is an adjunct professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and is the founder of Salt | Yeast | Light, where she develops spaces of theological candor, disruption, reflection, transformation, and public action.