‘Jesus was seriously into eating and drinking – so much so that his enemies accused him of doing it to excess. … 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 jug of wine’.
Jesus sounds like someone I want to be associated with!
Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering grace, community & mission around the table, looks at six particular meals that Jesus was at and explores what they tell us about grace, community, hope, mission, salvation and promised. It’s a wonderful book, beautifully written. I don’t want to give a full review, just highlight a few bits that particularly jumped out at me.
1. Jesus sees the heart
I was very moved by the episode in Luke 7 when the meal that Jesus was having at Simon’s house is interrupted by a woman, (who we presume was) known to be a prostitute, crying over and kissing his feet and then rubbing expensive perfume into them. As my kids would say, that really would have been a bit awkward…
Jesus’ response to Simon’s inevitably judgmental thoughts shows that Simon’s definition of righteousness is completely upside-down to Jesus’. The shocking thing, as Tim says, is that ‘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’.
CHALLENGE and HOPE: those are the two words that strike me here. Challenge because I know that all too often I am and have been like Simon, judging people without really knowing what’s going on in their lives. I wish I would stop doing that. And also hope, because at other times I am like that woman, and I know that in those times God looks at my heart and understands.
2. In a Desolate Place
In a chapter entitled, ‘meals as enacted hope’, Tim talks about the telling in Luke 9 of the feeding of the thousands of people who had come to listen to Jesus and had found themselves, in the evening, in a ‘desolate place’ (v. 12). In his feeding, Jesus is enacting out a vision of the messianic kingdom, welcoming all people, whoever they may be, to come and take their place, find inclusion, and eat with him. Tim comments, ‘this is more than a picnic; this is a banquet with Jesus as the host. Jesus is known through his catering’.
And the same happens when we gather as church to take communion, and I was made to sit up by Tim’s statement that, ‘when your church family gathers together as a group of needy people and shares food with Jesus at the centre and with Jesus as the provider, you glimpse God’s coming world right here, right now.
What struck me about that statement is that church too often doesn’t look like a group of needy people – it looks like a group of sorted people, all friendly with one another, with perfect lives. If you feel like you’re far from sorted, church can be a hard place to be.
And yet scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover a different reality. Actually your church will be full of dysfunctional people: people with money problem, marriage problems, friendship problems, work problems, eating problems, identity problems… you name it, it’ll be there!
What brings all of us together is that, in Jesus, we find hope. That isn’t a glib, plastic statement: it’s a statement of reality. Jesus is our sustenance, and in him we have hope for the future and for the present.
3. Our Daily Bread
I wonder how many times in your life you’ve prayed the words, ‘give us each day our daily bread’ (Luke 11:3)? It’s a slightly odd thing for us to pray because, for most of us, our daily bread is pretty much guaranteed – it isn’t really something that we need to pray about.
And so I was interested when Tim said, ‘we need to pray for our daily bread not because we’re worried about where our next meal might come from, but because we’re not’.
For most of us reading this we have lost any sense of dependency on God for our food. In fact it would make more sense to pray to Tesco to give us our daily bread than to God! And so to pray this prayer reminds us that our food is not guaranteed. It could run out. We depend on so many things in order to eat: on the soil, on the rain, on the sun, on the farmer, on the farm worker… and ultimately on God. And to pray this prayer reminds us to be thankful and mindful of every mouthful that we eat
I want to finish this post with the words of church leader Simon Carey Holt who Tim quotes, who says, ‘At base, hospitality is about providing a space for God’s Spirit to move. Setting a table, cooking a meal, washing the dishes is the ministry of facilitation: providing a context in which people feel loved and welcome and where God’s Spirit can be at work in their lives. Hospitality is a very ordinary business, but in its ordinariness is its real worth’.
When I read that I scribbled in the margins, ‘THIS IS WHAT I DO EVERY DAY’. I’m sure many of you reading this will feel the same, and God bless you for doing that.