It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to discover that we are surrounded by brokenness – sexual brokenness, racial brokenness, financial brokenness, relational brokenness, and spiritual brokenness to name a few. In response to much of the brokenness in our world, Christians sometimes take sides, debate, and polarize as way to hopefully solve or heal some of the brokenness.
Consequently, Christians are sometimes more known for what they are against rather than the grace and healing that Jesus embodied. One of the ways we see Jesus embody grace, healing, and love for the broken is through his table fellowship.
Jesus Was a Foodie
Well, maybe he wasn’t a foodie in the ways that we think about it today, but Jesus ate a lot, and he showed his love, grace, and healing towards the sinner, lost, and broken, through his table fellowship. Feasts, banquets, and meals provide a regular setting for many of the gospel stories and teachings of Jesus. For the Pharisees, however, this was problematic. There were a lot of rules and Jesus broke a lot of them, and was therefore criticized for it. N.T. Wright notes,
He ate with sinners and kept company with people normally on or beyond the borders of respectable society – which of course in his day and culture, meant not merely social responsibility, but religious uprightness, proper covenant behavior, loyalty to the traditions, and hence to the aspirations of Israel.
In Jesus’ day, this was a little more serious than just “hanging out with the wrong crowd.” Second Temple Jewish literature has a lot to say about the dangers of eating with sinners. Here’s a couple examples:
“Give some of your food to the hungry, and some of your clothing to the naked. Give all your surplus as alms, and do not let your eye begrudge your giving of alms. Place your bread on the grave of the righteous, but give none to sinners.” (Tobit 4:16-17)
“Separate yourself from gentiles, and do not eat with them…all of their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable.” (Jubilees 22:16)
In the perspective of the religious onlookers, then, for Jesus to be eating with sinners, gentiles, and outcasts was morally contaminating. Fellowship with sinners threatened the purity and holiness for the religious leaders. Jesus broke these rules, but Jesus also extended table fellowship with the outcasts anyway. (Luke 19:1-9; Mark 2:13-17; Mark 14:3-11).
Jesus’s Missional Meals
Although this was confusing for religious leaders, it was missionally intentional for Jesus. While the table was a boundary-marker of exclusion for the religious leaders, the table was a positive and including force for even the most wicked in society.
Jesus saw the meal as a transformative vision of the kingdom of God by extending grace, love, peace, trust, forgiveness, brotherhood, sisterhood, and acceptance. It was at the table that Jesus not only shared his life and heart, but where he missionally pursued even the most broken in society. Jesus’ radical table fellowship, then, gives us a glimpse into the radical love of God that reaches down even to the most wicked, broken, and dirty of society. Jesus did mission at the table.
They Will Know We are Christians by Our Food
Sometimes my imagination runs wild. When I look at my 10 person dining room table in our California home I imagine doing mission right there, at my table. I imagine full bellies, laughter, and heartfelt honest conversation with friends – young and old, sinner and saint, lost and found.
Even today, sharing a meal is an expression of generosity, hospitality, inclusion, reconciliation, belonging, acceptance, love, grace, and healing. It’s at the table that honesty, confession, and vulnerability often happens. It is at the table that the guest’s every need is cared for, noticed, and served. It is at the table that I look into the eye of my guest and and invite conversation about life, hardship, pain, hopes, dreams, and fears. It is at the table that I believe in the living God’s concrete, definite, in-breaking, and undeniable presence that has the power to restore all things.
What if, then, Christians are less known for their social media declarations of what they are against, and instead Christians are more known for love, acceptance, boundary-breaking-hospitality, listening, and presence embodied around a table of food?
Will your neighbor know you are a Christian for what you are against?
Will your neighbor know you are a Christian by your food?
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 N.T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God: Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 149
 Some of these ideas from this essay were developed as a student of Scot McKnight in his class “Jesus and the Gospels” at Northern Seminary