It may not look like it, but I love to eat. Food is a wonderful gift and I enjoy it immensely (sometimes too much). I have great memories of amazing meals – meals shared with friends as we laughed and cried, prayed and celebrated. I have reminders of beautiful meals with family and cherished cups of coffee that were life-giving in the moment as I shared them with mentors. There is a reason that food has such a special place in my life: God has designed the meal to be a particular means of grace. Tim Chester unpacks this idea in his book A Meal With Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission Around the Table. This book is both a theology of eating and a missional methodology, giving it a unique place on any Christian’s bookshelf.
The book is relatively short, 138 pages, and is laid out to follow Luke’s gospel, as it highlights six meals of Jesus. Each chapter looks at one particular meal and explores the ways in which each meal becomes a window into a related point. As Chester explains:
This book is about meals. But the meals of Jesus are a window into his message of grace and the way it defines his community and its mission. So this book is about grace, church, and mission. (15)
The six meals are found in Luke 5, 7, 9, 14, 22, and 24. It appears that Chester may be popularizing the work of Robert Karris and his book Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel (2006). He is not simply repeating Karris’ work, but he is drawing from it to develop some related points.
The book is breathtakingly beautiful in many ways. The various narratives that Chester includes to highlight points of application of illustration are compelling. He describes some of his own experiences, those of his church, and those of missionaries in other parts of the world. The various stories are truly gripping and convicting.
The book presents both a theology of feasting, exploring the ways in which food serves to enact grace, community, hope, mission, salvation, and promise. There is more to eating a meal than just eating. While he focuses largely on specific accounts within Luke, Chester draws from the whole Bible to present us a more comprehensive theology of feasting. In this regard he does a bit of Biblical theological work throughout. Readers will be amazed at the ways in which God has used meals throughout the Bible to communicate so many weighty things, to visit with His people, and to extend to them amazing grace. As with Chester’s other works, this always connects readers back to the gospel – showing how even feasting together is a reminder of the good news of Christ’s death for sinners.
The book is also a missional methodology. It presents eating as a strategic means of enacting the mission of the church. Jesus, after all, “came eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34). “His mission strategy, ” says Chester, “was a long meal, stretching into the evening” (13). Throughout the book Chester gives a stinging rebuke of the way many churches think about discipleship. His critiques point out the ways in which we cater go big ministry, big funds, and focus on “acceptable people.” He highlights the difference between those whom Jesus ate with, and those we focus our ministries around. He presents us with a different strategy, not just through eating, but a different strategy centered around reaching out to those who seem least likely to be brought into the church. It was a convicting and powerful message.
Overall this book was captivating. I couldn’t put it down and found myself feasting on page after page. It provoked frustrations in me, it convicted me of my own self-indulgence, it encouraged my fondness for meals, and it challenged me to pursue different ministry efforts in my personal life. I believe that there is much here that Christians can learn. Eating can be a means of doing theology, if such eating is done for the glory of God and the good of others. This is a new message for many of us, but it is an old practice established by God. I highly recommend A Meal with Jesus. It will be worthwhile reading for both those who struggle to think rightly about food, and those who struggle to think rightly about ministry.