Let’s eat! Building community though hospitality

Eating together in the life of Jesus

Jesus’ enemies once accused him of being “a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”[1]  And this should not surprise us, since a great part of Jesus’ missional life was occupied by eating and drinking – with everyone, all of the time!

Reading through Luke’s account of the works and words of Jesus, one cannot ignore the focus on our Lord’s table fellowship as he seems to move from house to house, from party to party, from meal to meal.  The bulk of the teachings and miracles Luke records happens as Jesus sat down to eat and drink with whoever invited him.  Indeed, the ethics of the Kingdom of God was first imparted over a meal.

Luke Meals in the Gospel of Luke
5:27-32 Banquet at Levi’s House
7:36-50 Dinner at Simon’s House
9:10-17 Feeding the 5,000 at Bethany
10:38-42 Hospitality at the home of Mary and Martha
11:37-52 Dinner at a Pharisee’s House
14:1-24 Sabbath meal at a Pharisee’s House
19:1-10 Hospitality at the home of Zacchaeus
22:14-38 The Last Supper in Jerusalem
24:28-32 Breaking Bread with disciples at Emmaus
24:36-43 Jesus eats a meal in presence of Disciples

In addition, meals were often the central theme of his messages – in itself a metaphor for God’s relationship with man.[2]

Eating together in the early church

Luke continues with this theme as he records the history of the early church.  The early believers multiplied and were strengthened in faith as they moved “from house to house” and “broke bread”.[3]  Early church historians notes two distinct meals that were habitually practiced: communion meals (The Lord’s Supper) and love feasts (fellowship meals).  This makes sense, because the way in which Jesus wanted his disciples to remember his works and words was through the communion meal[4] (not only a small piece of wafer and sip of juice!), mainly because this was how the Lord had taught them through example and instruction.

Not only was the church edified through the practice of hospitality, but through table fellowship it was also extended.  Disciples were instructed to preach the Kingdom of God from town to town just as Jesus modelled: speak peace, receive its hospitality as you eat and drink with them, heal the sick and announce the Kingdom has come![5]  Just as Jesus modelled with Zacchaeus, the disciples would discover “communion first, conversion second.”[6] Relationship leads to repentance.

More than mere extension enlargement (geographic growth), table fellowship was also the Lord’s means through which expansion growth (ethnic diversification) happened in the early church. Luke records how sharing a meal with gentiles resulted in a new conviction,[7] conversion[8] and charter[9] for the early church.  Acts 10 records three acts of hospitality that facilitated the conversion and inclusion of the Gentiles into the church: while Simon the Tanner hosted and prepared a meal for Peter, God (in a vision) prepared a meal for Peter, teaching the apostle that what he declares clean is clean – and then Cornelius’ messengers arrived.  Peter hosted and shared a meal with these gentile messengers, and accepted Cornelius’ invitation based on God’s prompting.  At Cornelius’ place, Peter and his friends enjoyed Cornelius’ hospitality, and shared a meal and the Gospel, which caused resulted in the sharing of God’s Spirit and their conversion.  Luke’s record shows that the focus is not only on the message, but the hospitable reception into fellowship signified by table fellowship.  “Communion first, conversion second.”[10]

Outdoor_feast_Table1

Our take-away

We eat our way into people’s hearts and lives.  Whether with fellow-believers, seekers or people opposing our faith, sharing a meal is the means to find common ground, show sincere love and allow for real relationships to be formed.  Sitting at the same table breaks downs walls of suspicion, scepticism and superiority.  Sharing a meal has for eons been the chosen ritual to seal a pack of friendship and communicate acceptance and trust.  Inviting someone to the table indicates interest and mutual identification.  And lastly, but most importantly, hosting a meal for another is a sign of honour and favour.

If we eat together more, we will be enlarged.  Eating together (1) edifies the believer, (2) extends your influence, and (3) expands your relationships.

When believers share a meal together, we are edified. Table fellowship strengthens fellow believers because sharing of our everyday life in Christ encourages one another, educate one another in everyday faith, exhort one another to put faith in practice and especially to establish (ground) our faith in relationship and everyday life. Faith that remains an individual’s ideas without manifesting in actions and relationships, is meaningless.  Therefore, sharing in our life with Christ with fellow believers over meal strengthens our experience and expectations of life with Christ, in community.

Secondly, sharing meals with seekers and non-believers extends our influence as we open our homes, and effectively hearts and lives to them.  And when you open your heart and life to another, your guest will encounter Christ in you. As mentioned above, Jesus’ instruction to preach the gospel focussed on hospitality: the Kingdom is extended as we share meals and open our hearts to those on the other side of the table.

Thirdly, just as the early church was diversified through hospitality, so eating together expands our relationships to include people outside or our normal sphere of influence.  I recall an early church plant in Pretoria: in spite of all our evangelistic outreach in the heart of cosmopolitan city, we remained mono-ethnic.  I could never understand it: people responded to us, accepted Christ, but never joined our faith community.  Years later in prayer and reflection it dawned on me: people not feel they belong because you greet them friendly in church – they feel they at home when you invite them for supper at your home.   Sharing a meal is an invitation to share life.  This is why Jesus would gladly enter the homes of “tax collectors and sinners” because accepting an invitation for dinner would lead to their inclusion into the Kingdom of God.

Indeed, eating together enlarges us and expands the Kingdom of God.  Jesus demonstrated it, the early church applied it, and wise missionaries it today.  Do you feel like practicing it?  Who will be first to share a meal with you, to edify your faith, extend your influence or expand your relationship for Christ’s sake?

hospitality_feast_1

[1] Luke 7:34-35

[2] Consider the parables of Jesus Luke recorded: the unexpected guest (11:5-10), of humility vs pride (14:8-11), of the great wedding feast (14:15-24), the lost coin, sheep and son (14:15-24) as well as the rich young man and Lazarus (16:15-31) – all have table fellowship at the heart of its teaching.

[3] Acts 2:42, 46

[4] Luke 22:14-18

[5] Luke 10:1-12

[6] Ben Meyer – Quote?

[7] Acts 10:15;

[8] Acts 10:44-48

[9] Galatians 2:10-16

[10] Meyer B.F., The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM Press, 1979), p. 161

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