How do our meals play a role in the mission of the church? Does food say anything about God’s grace, or community, or the purpose of the church? How did Jesus understand food?
A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community & Mission around the Table is essentially a biblical theology of meals based on the Gospel of Luke. Tim Chester, the author, takes 143 pages and demonstrates both how Jesus viewed meals and how Jesus used meals… all connected to grace, community, and mission.
Chester’s book is extraordinary, for a variety of reasons.
First, the introduction alone makes the book worth it. Chester lays out a Jesus’ relationship with food by asking a question. He writes,
“How would you complete the sentence: “The Son of Man came…”? The Son of Man came… preaching the Word… to establish the kingdom of God… to die on the cross.” (p. 12)
This question requires serious reflection, because Jesus certainly came for a purpose. Chester has a good answer:
“There are three ways the New Testament completes the sentence, “The Son of Man came…” “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45); “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10); “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking…” (Luke 7:34).” (Ibid.)
How do these three answers reveal to us Jesus’ missional strategy?
“The first two are statements of purpose. Why did Jesus come? He came to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost. The third is a statement of method. How did Jesus come? He came eating and drinking.”(Ibid.)
Thus, Chester spends the rest of the book exploring how throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus “is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal” (Robert J. Karris, Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, 14).
For Chester, Jesus’ “”excess” of good and “excess” of grace are linked” (p. 14). In other words, Jesus’ meals are more than just symbols, they are applications of the kingdom.
For the next six chapters, Chester explores how meals function as enacted grace, community, hope, mission, salvation, and promise. The substance of each chapter is extremely powerful and calls for Christians to go on mission around their dinner tables!
A Meal with Jesus should be one of those “missional required reading” type of works. It’s the practical outworking of what Craig L. Blomberg argues in Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ Meals with Sinners. But make no mistake, Chester’s exegetical insights are solid.
For example, in chapter five, “Meals as Enacted Salvation,” Chester looks at Luke 22 and the Lord’s Supper. He summarizes how food controls us by noting that in the Fall, rebellion was embodied in a meal (p. 103). His way of fleshing this out in this chapter is as follows:
- We use food for control instead of looking to God’s greatness
- We use food as image instead of looking to God’s glory
- We use food for refuge instead of looking to God’s goodness
- We use food for identity instead of looking to God’s grace
Food, as a neutral, can be the focus of a lot of negativity. It controls so many people. Yet Jesus demonstrates how food, as a neutral, can serve in massively positive ways! Chester shows us the following:
- Redemption embodied in a meal
- Hope embodied in a meal
Chester’s reference, of course, is to the message found in the Lord’s Supper, the sacrament that flows out of the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples.
One thing I appreciated throughout Chester’s work is his constant awareness of inaugurated and enacted eschatology. It permeates every page. This is one of the strengths of his book, I think.
So would I recommend this book? As I’ve already clearly stated: YES! It’s excellent. It’s simple. It’s profound. It’s… well, it works.