Italians eat and drink so well. As I (Shaun) write this blog, I have just finished a wonderful meal with friends and two of my children in Rome on our last night on mission here. This is my seventh or eighth mission trip to Italy, and one of the things I enjoy most about coming here (and miss when I leave) are the meals! Does that seem unprofessional, and not so missionary-like? Well, consider the comments of those who observed Jesus closely said of him shortly after beginning his earthly ministry:
As a man, Jesus needed to eat in order to survive, but this text tells us that Jesus went well beyond sustenance. In fact, he is accused of being excessive: A glutton is someone who eats too much, and a drunkard is someone who drinks too much.
This was unexpected behavior for the long-awaited Messiah, to say the least. Messianic expectations were of a military leader, a heavy-handed general perhaps – not the life of the dinner party! The term Son of Man itself is the name the prophet Daniel gives to the Messiah speaking of the one who would be given authority over the nations and then come to earth – Jesus seems to be taking authority only over which dinner party he and his disciples should attend next. So why did Jesus prefer the long meal with wine, fish, and bread lasting long into the evening as his preferred method of mission?
Let’s consider three reasons:
Jesus’ Mission Was People
Jesus was not interested in stuffy dinner parties that kept people at a distance from one another. His purpose in attending them was to close the distance between himself and people and to extend hospitality. In Luke 7:36-50 we are told Jesus attended a dinner party that was a bit too formal. Rather than sharing of lives, there was a false presentation of self by Jesus’ ultra-religious hosts. Then there was an unexpected guest to the party, a notoriously sinful woman:
Rather than reject her as people expected, Jesus showed her hospitality. Jesus’ mission was to welcome all people who are willing to come to him (John 6:37). Imagine the difference it made when Jesus was eating with people, pouring them a cup of wine, or handing them a piece of fish, as he listened to their hearts and shared with them his love for them.
In our own mission to follow Jesus and share him with those living in sin, it is of course good and necessary to pray for people or be generous financially. But it is another thing to invite them for a meal. People will generally not open up to those they do not trust. In Finland this is especially true of spiritual matters, but through meals and over time they might be willing to hear from you the Good News about Jesus.
Jesus' Mission Was Grace to Sinners
Read the following account of how the religious people reacted when Jesus was the guest of honor at dinner party held by the biggest sinners in the community.
To be fair, tax collectors were pretty unlikeable. They turned their back on their own people and God to collaborate with the Romans for selfish means. They made money by exploiting the poor. They were traitors, enemies of God, and Israel waited for the day when God would punish them for their actions. So why is Jesus celebrating with them?
Those who made a mess of their lives, who had no hope, and were rejected by others are those he came to receive. Make no mistake about it, all are sinners (Romans 3:23). The Pharisees criticizing Jesus fall as short of God’s holiness as the tax collectors. The difference, however, is that the tax collectors knew it. Jesus came for those that knew they were sinners. What a picture of the Gospel of Grace.
By loving the most unlovely people and sharing with them something so sacred and intimate as a meal, Jesus is turning the religious world upside down. He is demonstrating that he has not come to save us on the basis of our good deeds, but to save by grace those who know they have nothing to offer him.
In our culture, meals are often linked to status, class, and business. Practice simply enjoying dinner with people, even – and especially – people who could never offer you anything in return.
Jesus' Mission is Redemption
Subversive to all of the meals that Jesus shared with sinful people was the promise of a meal that he would eat with fully redeemed sinners in the new earth one day:
As we host meals, prepare rich food, and enjoy them with friends, family, strangers, even enemies, we are offering up an appetizer of what is to come for those who put their trust in Christ, when he will host us all at His glorious eternal banquet.
As I think about UCC, I appreciate how so many contribute to our fellowship times on Sundays by preparing and bringing meals for others to share. It makes a difference, so thank you. I also know that we are a hospitable church, and I encourage us all in opening our homes and sharing meals more often. There might not be any simpler or tastier way to get on mission!