A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester
A Meal with Jesus is one of these books I have been meaning to read for a very, very long time. It’s been recommended at every seminar/talk/workshop about hospitality that I’ve ever sat in and I have many friends who have found it really helpful. However, given how much I had heard it quoted and referenced, I thought that I probably knew the general gist of Chester’s argument and would simply be able to enjoy the refresher on this topic. I definitely was not expected to be challenged personally as I read. If you think this is a recurring theme in my Christian reading life… well, it certainly seems that way at the moment. I will never cease to be amazed by the ways God challenges us when we are least expecting it!
In this book, Chester is trying to provide us with a Biblical view of food and hospitality by exploring the meals described in Luke’s gospel. The first few chapters deal primarily with the topic of hospitality, encouraging the reader to see that hospitality in the Bible is central to both the life of the church family and to sharing faith with non-believers. It is very clear, throughout these opening chapters, that the book is very much aimed at UK and other ‘Western’ Christians; as I read, I could not helping think of my International friends who would be surprised to discover that sharing a meal together is something that UK Christians need to be encouraged to do. In many cultures, it would be the norm; for many of us in the UK it would be the exception. Chester argues that this attitude towards hospitality is not Biblical in the slightest: using the meals Jesus attended as an example, he takes the reader through the importance of eating in community as we communicate the good news of Jesus to each other as well as those who do not yet know him.
For me personally, the challenge of the book came in the final two chapters which explored ‘Meals as enacted salvation’ and ‘Meals as enacted promise’. I have received a lot of teaching about the value of hospitality in encouraging fellow Christians and sharing the good news of Jesus with those who don’t yet know him. However, the clear challenge from the last two chapters concerns our attitude towards food itself. Chester describes how, for so many of us, our attitude to food is actually an example of our rebellion against God. We use food for control, as a refuge, or to establish our identity; yet it is God who we should be looking to for these things, it is God who provides us with ultimate fulfilment. There were two aspects of my life, in particular, which these chapters made me think about: forgetting to eat lunch and being a vegetarian. The former reveals more than just a complicated relationship with food; it shows that I take the food I have such easy access to for granted. The latter straddles a strange line with being simply one part of who I am (a part I enjoy greatly) on one side and becoming my identity (which is Christ) on the other. I like to think that, at this present moment, I have a good balance with regards to my attitude to food, but these chapters certainly showed me that this is something I should not be complacent about. On the contrary, I need these reminders on a topic which we so often neglect here in the UK.
The overall challenge of the book is clear: sharing our faith involves sharing our lives with people. We share our lives with people as we invite them into community with us, welcoming and serving them in hospitality and grace. I am so thankful to be part of a church family which does this, and it is something that people often comment on to me, but I know that for me, personally, I could be better at doing this. Reading this book has encouraged me to worry less about how people are going to perceive my life, the state of my house, the fact that I’ll give them vegetarian food… I just need to get on with the task of loving people enough to share my life as it is, not as I wish it could be. I’m grateful for everyone who recommended this book to me, and now I’m going to go ahead and recommend it too.