I didn’t mean to read A Meal with Jesus. I receive enough books to review that I cannot possibly read them all. Last week I decided I would grab a selection of them and spend half an hour with each–not enough to read them through, but enough to get a bit of a feel for each. It didn’t work too well. A Meal with Jesus was the first book I picked up and once I began reading it I couldn’t stop. It turns out that this is a really good book.
According to its subtitle, A Meal With Jesus is a book about “discovering grace, community and mission around the table.” Tim Chester seeks to show God’s purposes in the sublimely ordinary act of sharing a meal. He shows that this most ordinary of ordinary events offers unique opportunities for grace, community and mission. Can a book about something so ordinary really be compelling and worth the read? Absolutely. And this is particularly true when the book comes from the capable hands of an excellent author.
Chester structures the book around the meals of Jesus as described in the gospel of Luke. It was Luke who quoted Jesus as saying, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Jesus was into eating and drinking and he was into it enough that people accused him of doing it to excess. Meals are a constant theme in this gospel. According to another author, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” Chester says that to Jesus meals “represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus’ 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.” Without simplistically reducing all of church and mission to meals, Chester manages to show that meals can and should be an integral part of our shared life.
Each of the book’s 6 chapters look at this from a different angle:
- Meals as Enacted Grace: Luke 5
- Meals as Enacted Community: Luke 7
- Meals as Enacted Hope: Luke 9
- Meals as Enacted Mission: Luke 14
- Meals as Enacted Salvation: Luke 22
- Meals as Enacted Promise: Luke 24
Moving from Jesus dining with Levi the tax collector to the post-resurrection Jesus dining with his disciples, Chester shows that meals were absolutely pivotal to Jesus’ work in the world. And if they were so important to Jesus, shouldn’t they be equally important to us?
One of my concerns as I began reading the book is that it would be difficult to take the subject matter out of the abstract. But as it turns out Chester does that well without resorting to either legalism or just plain silliness. He nicely weaves together theology with practical application.
Overall, this book shares a compact biblical theology of hospitality, focusing on meals. Chester makes a compelling argument that we would do well to view our meals through a biblical lens and to see each one as an opportunity to discover grace, community and mission. And since most of us eat 3 meals per day, we have endless opportunities to put into practice what we discover. So why don’t you give this one a read?
A random experience: I was reading the book at a local park while watching my wife’s soccer game. A guy walked by and said, “Hey, what book is that?” I showed him the cover and he looked very disappointed. “Oh, I thought it said ‘Metal Jesus.’” And then he walked off.