Thank God for the Jerk at Your Table


Think my title’s harsh?

You kind of get it, though, don’t you? If you’ve turned to this post, I’ll bet  you have one – you know – a jerk who will be at your Thanksgiving table.

Maybe an uncle who drones on about your lifestyle or your politics. A brother who can’t get over himself. A sister-in-law with special issues. A mother with a martyr complex. A father with the sensitivity of a charging rhino. A sister with a critical spirit, An adolescent who has taken to dressing in black and sulking whenever unplugged from social media. A child whose parents aren’t into discipline. A husband in mid-life crisis. A wife who’ll become a nervous wreck trying to please everyone.

Ah, Thanksgiving. Even now, you’re plotting your escape. You never thought you’d be one to go to the mall on a holiday but now you’re convincing yourself it’s good stewardship to shop the sales and wise self-care to escape the family stress.

I get it. I’ve been at that family table. I’ve dreaded a holiday gathering or two. I’ve dined with a jerk. And sometimes I’ve been one.

Funny how while sometimes the same jerk shows up every year, at other times we rotate the role. Share a table with the same people long enough and everyone gets a turn. Because we inherited an original jerky nature from our ancestors and the gene for jerkiness is potent – passing on to the seventh generation!

I’m not a fan of romanticizing the first Thanksgiving. I avoid all articles lamenting the loss of the good old days. Ecclesiastes 7:10 warns us against such thinking: “Don’t always be asking, “Where are the good old days?” Wise folks don’t ask questions like that.” (The Message) Mostly I just don’t see the point. What we have is now, not last year or a hundred years ago. Plus, I imagine that just like then, today there is some good and some bad, but God placed me in these times.

So here I am at this table with this jerk.

I do, however, resist the modern thinking that Thanksgiving is an event to be tolerated and then escaped as soon as possible with a quick trip to Stuff-mart. It seems incongruous to offer thanks to Jesus while demonstrating ingratitude for the people who share my table.

I think that sometimes we act like jerks for a period of time, but then we get stuck there because in the funky world of group dynamics, somehow that becomes our role around the table. Sometimes we don’t even really see one another because we’re so busy looking at our memory of years past.  I get why people who don’t know Jesus get stuck in this endless loop, but Christians have no excuse. We can slide through the wormhole of grace and gain a new perspective with every new day.

I’ve also been thinking about another table.

On the night Jesus was betrayed He shared bread with Judas, the prince of jerks. Judas was a poser, a thief, a greedy, lying betrayer, but after a night sharing a table with the other disciples, they couldn’t tell by the way Jesus treated him that he was any different from the rest. When Jesus indicated that one of them would betray him, they didn’t know which one it would be.

Jesus must have been able to enjoy His meal and the company! Even knowing what was ahead. Even knowing what was on Judas’ heart. Even knowing this was the last meal they would all share.

Sometimes it’s important to do that – just sit and share a meal and let everything else go just for a time.

Jesus lives in us,so we can share tables, too, with jerks or martyrs or critics or pouters or rebels or troublemakers and not just say grace – but also extend it.  So that if we were to say, “One of us sharing the cheesy bread basket at this table is a jerk,” our table-mates would look around and say, “Is it I? Am I the jerk?” because they wouldn’t be able to tell from the way we’d treated anyone at dinner.

Sure, sin needs to be confronted. Relationships ironed out. Jerks need to be told the truth about how they affect others.  But sometimes we all just need take a break, share a meal, tell a story, eat some pie, and thank God that we aren’t alone.

I wonder how many nights, after Jesus had ascended and the disciples had been scattered or killed, did John sit to eat alone on the Island of Patmos and think back to that meal where they were all together, drawing strength from that memory.

We can draw strength, too, from the vision of a table awaiting us on the other side where there will be laughter, warm bread, full glasses, and all the forgiven jerks will sit together and be thankful for one another without reservation.

May His kingdom come to our tables even now. Set an empty place for Jesus and remind yourself – If He can share a table with these jerks with joy than so can I. This Thanksgiving, don’t just say grace – extend it – as it has been extended, also, to you.


1 jərk/ noun

a quick, sharp, sudden movement.

  1. informal

a contemptibly obnoxious person.


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