Guest post by RuthAnn Deveney
I read A Meal with Jesus, by Tim Chester, for the first time about 5 years ago, and it made an impact on me. I was struck by the author’s straight-forward approach toward hospitality, and you know, I had never realized how much eating there is in the book of Luke! As author Tim Chester writes in the introduction, “The meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance, Jesus’s 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. It’s, well, it’s food, and you put it in your mouth, taste it, and eat it. And meals are more than food. They’re social occasions. They represent friendship, community, and welcome.”
This summer, it’s been great to revisit the book and discuss it with Iron Works folks! Every other week, we come together for dinner and conversation. You never know what everyone will bring, and I love the unplanned abundance that comes with a pot luck meal. We say grace, help ourselves to food, and chat. Simply eating together gives everyone a chance to catch up and ask about that thing we mentioned the last time. I think the meal acts a sort of prelude to the discussion we’re about to have. The act of sharing a meal prepares my heart and mind.
After dinner, we talk about the chapter for the week. The book is short - just an introduction and 6 chapters - so we’ve been reading it at a leisurely pace throughout the summer. I’m on my third time through this book, but there’s always something thought-provoking in the discussion. The stories in Luke that involve food show us Jesus’s character, and I always reflect on what it was like to really be there. What would I have said if Jesus told me to find something to eat for the crowd of five thousand people? How would I have reacted if I were in the room when the woman broke her alabaster jar of perfume and washed Jesus’s feet right in front of me? Each time, I’m confronted by Jesus’s grace and clarity of mission. I find myself daunted by the expectation; can I ever live up to it?
This summer, I’m learning (again!) that hospitality is about giving but also receiving. Being willing to be the guest and to be served by others is part of being part of a community. It’s a challenge for me to let go of performative aspects of hospitality, because I want to look good to others! The discipline of discussing this book regularly has helped remind me of what Jesus embodied when he ate with others. When we gather together over food, care for each other in contributing to the meal and listening to each other’s stories, and pray for people’s needs, we come closer to providing grace-filled hospitality and receiving it in turn.