“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking . . .”
(Luke 7:34 HCSB).
Crusty bread served with dried figs and cheese, lentil stew seasoned with garlic and cumin, grilled fish, olives, and mint: these are just some of the flavors savored in first-century Palestine. We might not know Jesus’s favorite food, but we can be certain that he ate. Jesus reclining around a table is a common image in the gospels. He shared meals with tax collectors, Pharisees, sinners, friends, skeptics, and disciples. The impression we get is that there was no one Jesus wouldn’t eat with, no one too low or too high, too broken or too religious.
Jesus’s ministry wasn’t marked by the asceticism that distinguished John the Baptist (Luke 7:34; Matt. 11:19). Although Jesus sometimes withdrew from company to fast, when he was reaching out to others and welcoming them into his circle, he ate with them.
Meals as an Occasion for Making Disciples
Pivotal moments in Jesus’s ministry unfolded during meals. He performed his first public miracle at a wedding feast, transforming water into wine. During Passover, Jesus prepared the disciples for his crucifixion and encouraged them to remember him with a meal. After the resurrection, his followers recognized him in Emmaus when he broke bread and blessed it. Later, Jesus restored Peter to leadership around a breakfast of grilled fish and loaves by the Sea of Tiberias.
“As Christians going into the world with the good news, we should expect to dine.”
For Jesus, meals carried meaning. Meals provided an occasion for teaching, rebuke, disclosure, prophesy, forgiveness, reconciliation, remembrance, worship, and celebration.
It’s difficult to conceive of mission without meals. Following the pattern of Jesus, shared meals can be an occasion for disciple making. Whether casual or formal, a quick snack from a street vendor or a multicourse meal at a classy restaurant, a meal is an opportunity to be attentive to another, to listen, to communicate, and to minister. As Christians going into the world with the good news, we should expect to dine.
An Invitation to Make Your Meal Missional
The images below are meant to transport you to lunch tables around the world. Consider the spiritual opportunities that emerge around a shared meal. Reflect on whether your meals are as emotionally and spiritually satisfying as they are delicious. Eight accompanying suggestions prompt you to consider some simple ways lunch can become a venue for mission.
1. Invite someone to join you for lunch.
Is there someone new to your workplace? Is there an international student or family who recently moved to your community? Is a friend or colleague going through a difficult season? It’s a delight to dine with close friends, but consider extending an invitation to someone you don’t know well or to someone who may need encouragement.
2. Put your phone down.
It’s impossible to have a meaningful conversation with someone who’s distracted by texts, social media, or online games. Fast from digital devices while you feast with a friend. Focus on good food and good conversation.
3. Be attentive.
Active listening is becoming a lost art in our culture where life’s pace leaves us little time to connect with others at a deep level. Try setting aside your own agenda and listening to the person sitting across the table. Ask thoughtful questions that invite others to share about their loves and their joys, their concerns and their fears.
4. Be vulnerable and be bold.
Evangelism is not a sales pitch; it’s a conversation. Scripture speaks into our lives at many points. Sharing from the heart involves being transparent about our struggles and the way God is shepherding us through them. If an opportunity to share the gospel opens up, don’t miss it.
5. Surprise someone by picking up the check.
Treating someone unexpectedly can be a way of expressing generosity and practicing hospitality. Giving without expecting reciprocity reflects the character of Christ.
6. Eat outside your cultural comfort zone.
Try an ethnic restaurant and order a dish you’ve never tasted. Savoring new flavors is an aspect of crossing cultures and a way of appreciating cultural diversity.
7. Match your meal.
Once a week, give the equivalent cost of one lunch to a trusted mission or humanitarian relief organization. If you want every dollar you give to go towards feeding the hungry, then two good options for giving are Global Hunger Relief and Baptist Global Response.
Pray God’s mercy for those around the world dealing with food insecurity and hunger. Pray for missionaries as they break bread with local friends. Ask that the Holy Spirit would embolden them to speak of the welcome found around the Lord’s table.
If you want to think more deeply about the spiritual dimension of hospitality and ways to make meals missional, check out A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester.