Here’s the latest extract from my new book, A Meal with Jesus. The book is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk and there is also a Kindle version available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.
Hospitality involves welcoming, creating space, listening, paying attention, providing. Meals slow things down. Some of us don’t like that. We like to get things done. But meals force you to be people-oriented instead of task oriented. Sharing a meal is not the only way of building relationships, but it is number one on the list.
It’s possible to remain at a distance from someone in public gatherings – even in a Bible study. Meals bring you close. You see people in situ, in life, as they are. You connect and communicate. Novelist Barbara Kingsolver describes dinnertime as “the cornerstone of our family’s mental health.” “If I had to quantify it,” she says, “I’d say 75 percent of my crucial parenting effort has taken place during or surrounding the time our family convenes for our evening meal.”1
Generous hospitality leads to reconciliation. It expresses forgiveness. Unresolved conflict can’t be ignored when we gather round the meal table: you can’t eat in silence without realizing there’s an issue to address. Paul uses hospitality as a metaphor for reconciliation when he says to the Corinthians: “Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no-one.” (2 Corinthians 7:2) Hospitality can be a kind of sacrament of forgiveness.
Marzipan cake. That’s how my friend Chris knew his mother-in-law was reconciled to him. Now every cake she bakes for him is a reaffirmation of her acceptance. It makes the cake doubly sweet. That’s how food so often works. We enjoy food not just because of the taste, but because of the companionship and welcome it expresses. Indeed sometimes we enjoy food despite the taste because of the love in which it’s packaged. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” (Proverbs 15:17)
Many people love the idea of community. But when we eat together we encounter not some theoretical community, but real people with all their problems and quirks. The meal table is an opportunity to give up our proud ideals by which we judge others and accept in their place the real community created by the cross of Christ with all its brokenness. It’s easy to love people in some abstract sense and preach the virtues of love. But we’re called to love the real individuals sat round the table.
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includes Tim Chester’s books and recommendations.