The title and description of A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table immediately caught my eye and I knew it was definitely a book I’d like to review. Developing a heart for hospitality in our family is something we try to be intentional about, so I’m always on the lookout for good resources.
A Meal with Jesus is different than most other books I’ve seen about hospitality. Rather than focusing on “how to do” hospitality, it focuses on the theology behind hospitality and Christian community. In every culture, food is an integral part of community, so it follows that food should be central in Christian community and mission as well.
In the gospel of Luke, references to food and feasts abound. In fact, one commentator quoted in the book said that in Luke, Jesus is always either on his way to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal! Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), and he came eating and drinking (7:34)! In fact, he did it so much and so often that his enemies accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard (7:34)! Clearly, meals represent something important in the kingdom of God: Jesus’ “excess” of food and “excess” of grace are linked:
So the meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus’s meals are not just symbols; they’re also application. They’re not just pictures; they’re the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff. It’s not ideas. It’s not theories. It’s, well, it’s food, and you put it in your mouth, taste it, and eat it. And meals are more than food. They’re social occasions. They represent friendship, community, and welcome.
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. (p. 14-15)
Focusing on the book of Luke, author Tim Chester shows how integral food and sharing meals is to the kingdom of God by examining several key events, like the sinful woman anointing Christ’s feet, the feeding of the 5000, and Jesus’ meal with Zaccheus. The six short chapters, each focusing on a different event, delve into how meals are enacted grace, community, hope, mission, salvation, and promise.
I really appreciated the focus throughout on hospitality and community as a way to experience God’s kingdom right here and now:
When your church family gathers together as a group of needy people and shares food with Jesus at the center and with Jesus as the provider, you glimpse God’s coming world right here, right now.
The Christian community is the beginning and sign of God’s coming world-and no more so than when we eat together. Our meals are a foretaste of the future messianic banquet. Our meals reveal the identity of Jesus. Our meals are a proclamation and demonstration of God’s good news. (p. 61)
So ultimately, what is the purpose of our meals? Dr. Chester sums it up this way:
[The Christian community’s meals] achieve many things. They express so much of God’s grace. They provide a glimpse of what it’s like to live under God’s reign. They express and reinforce the community that Christ has created through the cross. They’re a foretaste of the new creation. They’re a great context in which to invite unbelievers so they encounter the reality of God among us. But they’re not “for” any of these things…
Everything else-creation, redemption, mission-is “for” this: that we might eat together in the presence of God. God created the world so we might eat with him. The food we consume, the table around which we sit, and the companions gathered with us have as their end our communion with one another and with God. The Israelites were redeemed to eat with God on the mountain, and we’re redeemed for the great messianic banquet that we anticipate when we eat together as a Christian community. We proclaim Christ in mission so that others might hear the invitation to join the feast.
Creation, redemption, and mission all exist so that this meal can take place. (p. 138)
A Meal with Jesus is excellent. It’s definitely not the typical “how to” manual for hospitality, but it’s definitely unique, thought-provoking, and inspiring. A must read!