I was raised and reared in program-driven Southern churches. This should not be seen as a slight because this is simply an accurate description of the church’s life. Mission was going out on a set night to visit people or inviting people to a big program at church. Both of these have their places, but they feel abstracted from everyday life.
Tim Chester helps us gain an understanding for how to do mission and Christian community in everyday life in his book, A Meal with Jesus. Jesus said about Himself that He came, “eating and drinking,” so Chester examines some of Jesus’ meals in the Gospel of Luke to show “meals should be an integral and significant part of our shared life.” Each chapter focuses on one of Jesus meals, walking through the passage expositionally. He guides us in understanding what we should gain from the passage theologically, especially looking at what we learn about Jesus and grace from each passage. He also reflects on how each passage helps us understand how mission and Christian community can happen around the table.
A Meal with Jesus bleeds grace. Tim Chester opens up Luke’s Gospel to help us see the Son of Man who came to give His life as a ransom for many and who came to seek and to save that which is lost. He shows how Jesus came to save those who were far away from God and in great need of grace. We see Jesus as God’s welcoming Son who longs for the prodigal to come home. Chester also encourages Christians to show the grace they have received. Reflecting on Jesus’ grace towards us should produce grace in our own lives and a longing to see other people experience this grace.
When I finished this book, I sat back in my chair and thought, “how on earth have I missed this all these years?” The church has been trying for decades to come up with effective strategies to help Christians understand how to share their faith, and we have forgotten one that is simple, biblical, and effective- eat with people. The table creates conversation and shared experiences. Maybe welcoming our neighbors as Christ has welcomed us is the thing we should have been doing all along.
Below are the quotes I highlighted as I read A Meal with Jesus:
“Few acts are more expressive of companionship than the shared meal. . . . Someone with whom we share food is likely to be our friend, or well on the way to becoming one.” Quote from Carol Steele’s book Food City.
American Christians spend more on dieting than on world missions.
We spend more curing our overconsumption than we do feeding the physically and spiritually hungry of the world.
His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher of wine.
This is why eating and drinking were so important in the mission of Jesus: they were a sign of his friendship with tax collectors and sinners. His “excess” of food and “excess” of grace are linked. In the ministry of Jesus, meals were enacted grace, community, and mission.
I don’t want to reduce church and mission to meals, but I do want to argue that meals should be an integral and significant part of our shared life. They represent the meaning of mission, but they more than represent it: they embody and enact our mission. Community and mission are more than meals, but it’s hard to conceive of them without meals.
Being welcomed at a table for the purpose of eating food with another person had become a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy and unity.
But we can’t condemn these things at a distance. That’s legalism. We must come alongside, proclaiming and demonstrating the transforming grace of God.
Jesus welcomes the enemies of God. Surely this makes any claims that Jesus might be from God nonsense. Can you see how their position makes good sense? Unless . . . Unless God is doing something new—so new it doesn’t fit any of the old categories. Unless God is doing something so gracious it takes us completely by surprise.
I sometimes look around my congregation and see a bunch of dysfunctional people thrown together, somehow managing to be family. And I smile at the ridiculous grace of God.
Just before this story Luke recounts the accusation that Jesus is “a friend of sinners.” How is Luke going to defend Jesus against this accusation? He doesn’t. In fact he tells a story that shows that it’s true. Jesus is the friend of sinners. He links his identity to ours to reveal himself as the gracious Savior. He comes “eating and drinking” to show that sinners can be part of his kingdom. The glorious Son of Man described in Daniel 7 is the gracious dinner companion of Luke 7.
But the real shock is this: Jesus sees the heart of this woman and he sees the heart of Simon—and he’s more disgusted by what he sees in Simon’s heart than by what he sees in the woman’s heart.
Many homes no longer even have a dining room. We protect ourselves from outsiders, but our security systems and garden gates are our prisons, cutting us off from community. Instead we get our community vicariously through soap operas. Friends is a television program or a Facebook number, not people with whom we eat and laugh and cry.
There’s nothing wrong with eating out or hosting a special meal— indeed there’s a lot right with it. But somewhere along the line the commercialization of meals has cost us something precious. Hospitality has become performance art, and we’ve lost the creation of intimacy around a meal.
Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what you’re saying.
Whatever it looks like, your own table is a sacred place and one just as implicated by the lavish nature of God’s grace as any other.
People often complain that they lack time for mission. But we all have to eat. Three meals a day, seven days a week. That’s twenty-one opportunities for mission and community without adding anything to your schedule.
“Don’t start with a big program. Don’t suddenly think you can add to your church budget and begin. Start personally and start in your home. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin by opening your home for community. . . . You don’t need a big program. You don’t have to convince your session or board. All you have to do is open your home and begin. And there is no place in God’s world where there are no people who will come and share a home as long as it is a real home.” (Quote from Francis Schaffer)
Both very dirty houses and very tidy houses make me feel uncomfortable. In the case of very tidy homes, I’m always afraid I’m going to pollute the show-home perfection. If your house is somewhere in between, then I’ll feel at home!
In the new covenant Jesus represents both God and humanity. He is God’s Son and the faithful representative of God’s people. Therefore this covenant is eternal and secure, because it rests on Christ’s perfect faithfulness.