Jesus at the Table

September 27, 2014
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“Eats with Sinners” is the name of a book by Arron Chambers that our whole church is reading right now. The title intrigued me, and since Jesus didn’t eat only with sinners, I decided to scour the Gospels to learn more. I have a relationship with Jesus, and I have a relationship with food, both of which could always stand improvement, so it seemed like a good topic to explore further.

Food and miracles were often related in the Gospels. Jesus was tempted by Satan to turn a stone into bread after 40 days of fasting. He could have, but he said no, of course.

Jesus, instead, performed the first of his miraculous signs at a wedding feast, after his mom dropped a hint that the hosts were out of wine.

For his next big mealtime miracle, he spent a whole day healing sick people, then his compassion flowed on their empty bellies. He fed 5,000 men plus women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish. He reprised that miracle another time on a mountainside along the Sea of Galilee. This time he fed 4,000-plus people with seven loaves and a few small fishes.

Although Jesus certainly cared about hungry people getting fed, if you listen closely, you learn that Jesus was into more than physical nourishment. He told a lonely Samaritan woman at a well that he could give her living water so she would never be thirsty again—and he wasn’t talking about liquid refreshment either. Later, when his disciples returned with dinner, he informed them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” If you remember, in the face of temptation, Jesus had countered Satan with that Old Testament reminder, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Yet, Jesus took advantage of mealtimes to do a lot of ministry.

So when he invited a tax collector named Matthew to become an apostle, Jesus went home with him to enjoy a great banquet peopled by a large crowd of tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees, naturally, disapproved.

They came to refer to Jesus as a man who welcomes sinners and eats with them, although they didn’t mean it as a compliment. And Jesus himself acknowledged his reputation as a glutton and a drunkard, the friend of tax collectors and sinners.

But they weren’t the only kind of sinners Jesus ate with. He had a lot of dinners with the spiritually blind, self-righteous kind too.

At the home of Simon the Pharisee, dinner was interrupted by a sinful woman – probably a prostitute – who wept at Jesus’ feet. Simon wondered how Jesus could bear her touch, and Jesus informed him that he had some serious spiritual issues of his own.

He used another dinner in a Pharisee’s home to question the religious leaders’ focus on clean dishes to the neglect of their contaminated hearts. He turned that dinner into a woe-fest.

On one Sabbath, Jesus used a dinner in the house of a prominent Pharisee as an opportunity to heal a man with dropsy and question some heartless Sabbath traditions.

He told the Pharisees that they should stop assuming places of honor at their feasts – “show a little humility, guys” – and that they should invite more poor people to their banquets, along with the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then they would be blessed and repaid not here on earth but in heaven where it really counts.

Last of all, Jesus ate with sinners who had been transformed by their faith in him – that is, his disciples and friends. Most of those stories fall toward the end of each Gospel.

A few days before his crucifixion, Jesus was having dinner with his friend Lazarus, when Mary came in and gave Jesus an outlandishly expensive anointing. Jesus pointed out to his disapproving disciples that what she did was right and beautiful – even more than she knew. You, of course, remember a prior meal with this family, when Martha was so busy with preparations that she missed out on what Jesus considered the better option – sitting and listening at his feet.

On the night of his betrayal Jesus shared his last Passover meal with his disciples. He tried to prepare them for the ordeal ahead and instituted a feast of bread and wine for his followers to share in his memory for all time.

On the day of his resurrection, he ate with two disciples in Emmaus and opened their eyes about the mission of the Messiah. Later that evening he showed up among the Eleven, presented his hands and feet and asked, “Do you have anything here to eat?” Luke says that as they ate he then opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

And finally before his Ascension, he met his disciples on a beach after a miraculous catch of fish and said, “Come and have breakfast.” When they finished eating, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity three times to declare his love and reverse his crucifixion night denials.

It seems to me that Jesus had a knack for – maybe even a mission for – redeeming the mundane act of eating. He turned food into a form of compassion and mealtimes into means for advancing the kingdom of God.

While Jesus could do a lot with a few loaves and fishes, the ministry he was able to do around a table was nearly miraculous. What else would you expect from the very “bread of life”?

I am certainly convicted that mealtime isn’t only me-time. Yes, I’ll still enjoy myself when I confront a dish of delicious cuisine. But I’m also going to try to remember that I’m not just here for the food.

2 responses to “Jesus at the Table”

  1. Patty Roseberry says:

    Dear Lynn,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and truth in this article, it is true when you are partaking a meal or any food, it is a great opportunity to share God’s word and plant seeds, it will always leave a memory where ever God leads you to. Blessings

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