I already hinted around about my review of A Meal with Jesus here ("Missional Living: A Meal for the Sake of the Gospel"). Over the last year the Spirit is really moving my heart into a deeper understanding of the gospel. Three themes have contributed to this growth in my own life: racism, adoption, and food. These three are all connected directly to our understanding of the gospel and how that looks practically. I would argue it looks primarily like a family. A Meal for Jesus is an exposition of shared meals in the ministry of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. Tim Chester (p. 9) starts by saying
Food matters. Meals matter. Meals are full of significance. "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."
Not only do meals share significance socially but for the church and in the life of Jesus meals are also "full of significance." It's really eye opening when Chester draws out all the references to eating a meal and all the references to food in the gospel of Luke. Chesters quotes Robert Karris saying: "â€˜In Luke's Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal'" (p. 12). This patter should not be ignored.
Just briefly Chester connects the importance of the meals with the problem of racism in early Judaism. He says,
When Isaiah promised a great banquet, it included "all peoples," "all nations," "all faces," and "all the earth" (Isa. 25:6-8). But in the years before Jesus, the Gentiles had dropped off the guest list in Jewish hopes for the coming banquet. (p. 17)
That's just a brief glimpse into how shared meals and the family matters (like racism) connect. He goes on to attack our propensity to up lift our theological pet peeves to the level of gospel issues. His words are especially piercing when discusses our love for demanding external conformity and draws out "a key theme in Luke's Gospel"--heeding ("hearing" + "doing") the word of God.
He then discusses how meals can be an enactment of community. He begins with a moving description of the scene of Luke 7:36-39 where the prostitute wipes Jesus' feet with her tears and hair. He discusses how Jesus was happy to put his reputation on the line for her just like he does for us (pp. 31-32). Jesus came to save sinners like her and like you and me. He describes how a shared meals help build community:
Hospitality involves welcoming, creating space, listening, paying attention, and providing. Meals slow things down. Some of us don't like that. We like to get things done. But meals force you to be people oriented instead of task oriented. Sharing a meal is not the only way to build relationships, but it is number one on the list.
It's possible to remain at a distance from someone in public gatheringsâ€”even in a Bible study. Meals bring you close. You see people in situ, in life, as they are. You connect and communicate. Novelist Barbara Kingsolver describes dinnertime as "the cornerstone of our family's mental health." "If I had to quantify it," she says, "I'd say 75 percent of my crucial parenting effort has taken place during or surrounding the time our family convenes for our evening meal."12 Generous hospitality leads to reconciliation. It expresses forgiveness. Unresolved conflict can't be ignored when we gather round the meal table; you can't eat in silence without realizing there's an issue to address. Paul uses hospitality as a metaphor for reconciliation when he says to the Corinthians: "Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one . . ." (2 Cor. 7:2). Hospitality can be a kind of sacrament of forgiveness. (p. 38)
Chester also regrets that our churches don't more resemble the love and compassion that Jesus showed. We often act like the Pharisees when he reject people by their outward appearance instead loving them and sharing a meal with them.
In the following chapter, "A Meal as Enacted Hope," Chester makes an insightful recognition about the structure of Luke.
In Luke 9:51 the Gospel heads off in a new directionâ€”literally. "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." All the action in chapters 1-9 takes place in Galilee. But now we're heading to Jerusalem and the cross. So the feeding of the five thousand comes at the end of the first half of the Gospel. This open-air, large-scale meal is the climax of part 1: Jesus is the Christ. The rest of the Gospel spells out what it means for Jesus to be the Christ and what it means to follow this Christ. He is the Christ who must die (Luke 9:21-22, 43-45), and to follow him means a life of death to self and service of others (vv. 23-27, 46-48). (p. 52)
He provides a refreshing way to understand the narrative flow of Luke. I'd encourage you to read through the Gospel of Luke while reading A Meal with Jesus. He draws additional significance from the fact that the God incarnate eats with us (p. 53) and then points out that pagan gods demand we feed them while God feeds us (p. 56). He also reminds us that our physical hunger must connect with our spiritual hunger for God. He makes this connection explicit when discussing the importance of fasting as a way to increase hunger for God (pp. 56-57).
His next chapter discusses how meals can be a form of mission. He discusses the contrasted values of the culture of Jesus' day where the sick, sinners, and such were purposely excluded from sharing meals whereas in the ministry of Jesus those were the very people he desired to minister to by sharing a meal.
If you want to see a religious person's vision of life, then show up at one of their meals. There's no restoration on the Sabbath. There's jockeying for position. The poor are excluded. The religious think their meals maintain the purity of Israel. But Jesus says they're the threat to the people of God. It's an ugly vision and not at all inviting. (p. 64)
He argues that too often our ministry's focus on the rich and the movers of our society, while Jesus's ministry focused on the poor. Chester doesn't argue we should preach to the rich but that we show partiality for the rich in our current ministry paradigms.
The next chapter discusses meal as enacted salvation specifically connecting this idea with communion. He says, "The people of God are to be a community in which everyone, however marginal, joins the party" (86). He argues the bread and wine is a reminder that the new creation has begun and that we hope for our final glorification along with the present world. He says,
When we recapture the Lord's Supper as a feast of friends, celebrated as a meal in the presence of the Spirit, then it will become something we earnestly desire. It will become the high point of our life together as the people of God. In this sad and broken world, the Lord's Supper is a moment of joy, because it's a moment of the future. (p. 94)
He then further expounds this idea in the next chapter: "The resurrection of Jesus is the promise and beginning of the renewal of all things, and the future is a physical future on a renewed earth" (99). He discusses the hopelessness the disciples after Jesus died. They felt that their hope of freedom was killed with Jesus's death. However, they failed to realize that the death of Jesus was necessary to begin the process of re-creation. "Creation, redemption, and mission all exist so that this meal can take place" (110). The book ends where our hope begins with the power of the resurrection of Jesus to transform our lives and our communities. A Meal with Jesus is easily on the list of my top books. It will transform your understanding of the simple act of eating together grounding our understanding in the example of Jesus and the early church.
"A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table" by Tim Chester serves as much needed reminder that Jesus' kingdom mission was centered around a meal with the socially marginalized and religious outcasts where the realities of God's grace, hope, and salvation were both created and symbolized. He highlights the bitter pill that the same circles that have championed "justification by faith" actually practice a form of "justification by works" wherever individuals are ostracized from the meal life of the church for reasons of class, race, and status. The book likewise observes that mission has largely lost this meal aspect of the early church in regards to hospitality and rightly recalls that Jesus was made "known in the breaking of bread" and not so much in the pithy one-liner "Do you know Jesus". Point well taken. In the end, we must realize that the Spirited communal meal with Jesus the Older Brother and God the Father was the very reason he paid the price at Calvary, that is, that we might "recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God". And the wonderful truth is we don't have to wait for that day to begin enjoying the new creation party for it has started wherever sinners sit down prepare a meal and eat with Jesus!
During the time of Christ, the location where one would sit at a meal would reveal their status within society. During this time, Pharisees and the upper-class would sit at the table and the poor would sit at their feet. The unclean, Gentiles, and the poor often could not even eat with the Jews because of cleanliness laws. In chapter one Chester addresses how Christ invites all (peoples) to the table to feast with him. Chester describes the universal call of Christ's invitation to the table when he says, "You're invited to my party in the new creation. Come as you are (Chester, 23)." The meals which Jesus took part in were a radical reversal of the eating traditions of the self-righteous and religious elite. The meals which Jesus took part in included the helpless, the poor, and the tax collector. Jesus' meals were an act of grace to those who needed a physician.
2. Meals as Enacted Community: Luke 7
Meals establish community by bringing people together. Jesus welcomed sinners and those in need to the table to experience fellowship. This fellowship anticipates a future banquet which would include all peoples. Not only did Jesus invite the poor, helpless, and sinners to the table, but they invited him to fellowship. The helpless realize their need for a savior whereas the self-righteous often feel as though they need nothing. This concept reminds me of Newton's famous quote, "Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly. I'm a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior." The first part of the quote demands the second. Those who realize that they have a true, need are those who cry out for a great savior. The helpless would come to Christ in their great need.
3. Meals as Enacted Hope: Luke 9
In chapter three Chester addresses the feeding of the 5000 thousand. In this chapter he points out a correlation between God providing a meal in the wilderness, the feeding of the 5000, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Chester points out that the purpose of this miracle was not magical in intention, but for the purpose of pointing to the greater banquet that we would all one day take part in.
4. Meals as Enacted Mission: Luke 14
In Chapter four Chester points out that meals give the opportunity for mission. Meals do not require mission strategy, any special training, or apologetic. Meals setup an opportunity for the gospel to go out. Chester describes this in saying, "When you combine a passion for Jesus with shared meals, you create potent gospel opportunities (Chester, 77)." Jesus' actions throughout his ministry demonstrate an abolishment of the divide between inside and outside, poor and rich, and Jew and Gentile. Jesus' ministry drew all peoples together in anticipation of this future banquet.
5. Meals as Enacted Salvation: Luke 22
Chester points out that we abuse food. Food was meant to point us to our need for Christ. Rather than use food as it was intended, we abuse it and ignore its purpose. We use food for refuge rather than turning to God for our comfort. We often will place food in the place where God belongs and as a result be unable to see our true need. Chester tells us that meals contain the promise. In the Lord's Supper we can see the promise of salvation. Those participating in the Supper are partaking of Christ until he returns. In the Lord's Supper we proclaim his death, resurrection, and future return.
6. Meals as Enacted Promise: Luke 24
By participation in the Lord's Supper we proclaim his future return. The Lord's Supper and fellowship meals are but a small type of the future banquet we will participate in when Christ returns. By participating in these meals with all peoples we are declaring our hope and assurance of the things to come. The Supper points to a renewal, one in which all creation will be restored and the least of these will be fellowship with Christ.
Chester is a prolific writer. A Meal with Jesus combines both sound biblical theology and practicalogy. Chester demonstrates the necessity for regular fellowship meals within the lives of those in the church. I thoroughly enjoyed the arguments Chester made and the small tidbits of application which frequently adds to each chapter. Chester's book in deep enough for a seminarian, but still basic enough for any lay person to leave longing for more. Chester points out many connections in Luke that often go unnoticed by many expositors (e.g. Luke influence while writing from Moses: the Exodus, Duet, and ect). Chester does a great job balancing gospel indicative with moral application (command). Chester's applications are thoroughly rooted in the gospel indicative. The moral applications are mere implications of the results of the gospel. The modern church is in dire need within the church. The modern church needs to hear a message of fellowship centered around Christ. The needs to be our meal time conversation. Our meals should point to and give hope of Christ's future return. I highly encourage this book to everyone, especially those churches who lack biblical community.
I found Tim Chester's A Meal with Jesus both challenging and refreshing. The basic premise of the book is that meals can be a means of grace in action. They build true community, point to our future hope in Christ, and serve as a context for mission. Chester traces the meals of Jesus in Luke's gospel (chapters 5, 7, 9, 14, 22, and 24) to show how powerful a meal shared with friends (and even supposed enemies) can be. I say this book was refreshing because it showed how much can be said with our actions. For those of us who follow Christ, our meals can be a means of obedience to Him. They allow us to show love to others and to tell the story of what God has done for us. They also serve as a reminder of the great promises we have in Christ. Such a simple thing, but very powerful.
On the other hand, I found this book challenging because meals can be very personal and can quickly drag a person out of their comfort zone in order to meet another person where they are living. This is not easy (at least not for me). In the book, Chester describes cross-cultural meals enacted as mission. To some, this type of thing is electrifying. For others (like myself), the idea is welcome, but the reality is filled with questions and sustained efforts to avoid looking stupid or having too many awkward silences. It's much easier to hope people just come to our churches, where we feel comfortable and where it's not so intimate.
As I said, this kind of thinking is a challenge, but a good one - one in which I hope God will give me opportunities to grow. At the same time (and this is not intended to be a cop out), I wonder if Chester too easily jumps from the ancient context of hospitality through shared meals to today's world. What I mean is this: Does inviting someone over for a meal convey the same feelings and respect it did two-thousand years ago? For some, I'm sure it does, but for others, the whole scene might seem really alien, depending on how long the guests have known the hosts. Even in the span of a few decades, things have changed. Imagine attending a church for the first time and being invited to lunch at the home of someone you met for about five minutes during the meet-and-greet time of the service (this was not uncommon years ago). For some, this invitation would be a welcome door into the life of the church. For others, such an invitation would be the height of awkwardness. Maybe today's hospitality would more comfortably take place at a neutral setting or after some measure of time has passed. As I struggle to find where my own discomfort meets true cultural difference, I hope to find the place where the challenge isn't diminished entirely and where the twenty-first century realities meet the heart of Jesus.
"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" (138).
I was unfamiliar with the work of Tim Chester before reading A Meal with Jesus. However, I was pleasantly surprised after reading the book by the author's careful attention to the running theme of grace throughout the meals that Jesus shared with people and his followers. At the beginning of the book, Chester immediately draws attention to a radical point in the ministry of Jesus by saying, "The grace of God is readically subverise. Running through Luke's Gospel is the message that the last day will involve a radical reversal in which the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The meals of Jesus picture that day, as he welcomes the marginal and confronts the self-righteous and self-reliant" (27). Jesus met people in the midst of their chaotic mess of a life, he even dined with tax collectors and sinners. We often times think that the only type of fellowship is just hanging out with believers and sharing a meal, but we often miss the point that sharing a meal with strangers is most often how Jesus introduced people to grace, to his kingdom. This kind of message goes a long way to breaking the Christian mindset of its fortress mentality (to be unscathed by the world we must draw away from the world towards believers).
In describing the lack of hospitality that Simon gave Jesus in Luke 7, Chester invites us to think about how we treat others. He says, "Whenever we look down on someone for being smelly, or disorganized, or lazy, or emotional, or promiscuous, or socially inept, or bitter; then we're like graceless Simon" (45). The prostitute showed Jesus her servan'ts heart by her acts of hospitality, while Simon failed to be a gracious host. When we merely judge on appearances, we lose sight of the radical message of grace,being full of pride we fail to see our desperate need of grace. Chester seems to indicate that this lack of a need for for grace to others brings with it a deficient attitude towards God's grace to oneself (45). Instead of being patronizing to others, the grace of God clears our hearts of airs of superiority and brings us down to level field with others. Chester sees that enacted community begins with a true vision of both grace and our condition.
Chester points out in the chapter on Enacted Hope that the other gospels besides Luke point out the ability of Jesus to feed the people in the fish and loaves narrative, but Luke's gospel is focused on the inability of the disciples to feed the people (62). Why is this important? The gospel story is written to draw the disciples ministry away from heroic deeds and self-reliance to the one who provides the Bread of Life. The leftovers after the feeding of the five thousand is a reminder that Jesus' mission is enough for their mission to the world. Chester goes onto beg the question that we sometimes get into: how can I change the world with the gospel? He points out that burnout is inevitable if we are left to our own devices. The Host of the banquet is Jesus and anytime we don't point other needy sinners to him, we run out of juice.
After looking at a few places where I think Chester does a great job at pulling together Jesus' meals with other, grace, and community, I want to look at another point of emphasis that I think is particularly helpful in the book. Chester does not seem to make a big deal out of this point, but in practice he does a very good job and wedding a biblical theology with a faith that is evident in works. After reading each chapter, I found myself asking two questions that were answered in the affirmative: Does Chester make much of Jesus in his writing about meals, grace, and community? Secondly, does his making much of Jesus lead us to worship (in the broad sense of carrying out grace of God in every area of life)? I was glad to see that Chester answered both questions in his wonderful book. The only question I would have and it could be beyond the scope of the book: How does the Old Testament witness of charity, of lovingkindess to the downcast build a foundation for the teaching a Jesus in a more nuanced way?
Lastly, I thought the last few chapters were good reminders of how hospitality could be used in the ancient world as boundary markers, but for the Christian we can get into the same rut. We invite the same people and talk about the same issues, but fail to see that serving others takes hard work. One of the big challenges for me was that hospitality means that I don't have to be mindlessly busy all tht time, taking time for hospitality causes me to choose to be available. Being busy can actually cause harm to being hospitable, because we focus so much on ourselves that we lose sight of others and their needs. Overall, I thought this book was an excellent work that could be used in small group study, read with a friend or in class. Pastors, leaders, those wanting more out of life will find great encouragement and challenge in this book.
Much thanks to Crossway Books for the review copy to read.