What if we could sit at the table with Jesus and learn from how he interacted during his own table ministry. Well, you can. Just look at Luke and you’ll find nearly a dozen examples of Jesus as gracious guest and host of a table meal.
Jesus went to a party thrown by a tax man. Tax collectors were the con-men and turncoats of Jesus’ day who bilked Jews for more money than they really owed the Roman government. People couldn’t understand why Jesus would eat with them, yet Jesus showed that eating with even those who break Jewish dietary customs in order to share the gospel is more important than pleasing his own group or Jewish tribal practices. He said, and I paraphrase, “A good doctor doesn’t spend the bulk of his time with well people but the sick” (Luke 5:27-32).
But don’t imagine Jesus neglected his own people—he ate with the self-righteous Jews also. During the meal, when servants were likely coming in and out of the room bringing food, a prostitute slipped in and began pouring perfume on Jesus feet. The self-righteous host was indignant and lost respect for Jesus, wondering how a prophet would allow an obviously sinful woman caress his feet. Jesus did not refuse hospitality from this woman as well and at that table he forgave her sins. The people watching were amazed and wondered who this man was who could forgive sins.
You’ve heard the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand (Luke 9:10-17). Jesus is showing hospitality and commanding his disciples to feed others as well. So when people are feeding you, they are also fulfilling a mission Jesus called his disciples to do: “give them something to eat.”
In Luke 10:8 Jesus tells the seventy disciples he send out to “eat what is set before you.” The apostle Paul also exhorts Christians to eat food without questions when they are fellowshipping with others.
The table is part of Jesus mission; if Jesus believes eating at the table with people is part of his mission, don’t you think we ought to take the table seriously? You can find stories of Jesus accepting or giving hospitality in Luke 10:38-42; 11:37-54; 14:1-24; Luke 19:1-10; Luke 24:30-35, 45-49). As my friend John Mark Hicks says,
The table is a place where Jesus was both a gracious guest and gracious host. So the table is a place where the church welcomes strangers (aliens). The table has a missionary quality, especially in light of the fact that the disciples receive their call to missions at a table. The table is a place where Jesus receives sinners and confronts the righteous. The table is the place where Jesus extends grace to seekers, but condemns the self-righteous. Jesus is willing to eat with sinners in order to invite them into the kingdom . . . The last (sinners, poor, and humbled) will be first in the kingdom of God, but the first (self-righteous, rich and proud) will be last and excluded from the kingdom of God (Luke 13:26-30).
From “The Missional Table,” (Wineskins Magazine, Sep/Oct 2002).
Here is the kicker: eating together with God’s children in another country is one of the God-given and Jesus-modeled ways to be the body of Christ, to proclaim the incredible good news that the kingdom of God is near.