If we are called to practice hospitality and to model the life of Christ, then it would be fitting to examine how Jesus used the ministry of hospitality in His own life, right? Consider how many times the Bible tells the story of people encountering Christ at the table, in their homes, or over a shared meal.
In his book A Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester lists multiple accounts in the gospel of Luke alone in which Jesus ate with people:
Luke 5: Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners at Levi’s house.
Luke 7: Jesus accepted an invitation to eat in the home of Simon the Pharisee.
Luke 9: Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand-plus.
Luke 10: Jesus was welcomed in the home of Mary and Martha for a meal and a stay.
Luke 11: Jesus was reclined at the Pharisee’s table when He warned the teachers of the law.
Luke 14: Jesus was at a meal when He said that welcoming the broken results in blessing.
Luke 19: Jesus initiated hospitality by coming to Zacchaeus’s house.
Luke 22: Jesus gathered His nearest and dearest around a table for the Last Supper.1
And that’s not all! The woman at the well, the wedding at Cana, plus countless parables, narratives, comparisons, and more are food-focused in the Scriptures. Feasts, the Bread of Life, living water, and I could go on and on!
The array of people Christ engaged in hospitality is broad. What a mixed bag! Becoming the talk of the town, He broke bread with tax collectors and sinners. He hung out with people who were distant from God. He shared meals with people whose bad reputations had spread far and wide. These meals drew the controversial opinions and judgment of some. “How can He dine with people like that?” they would say. “Doesn’t He know what kind of woman she is?” they would scoff.
On the other end of the spiritual spectrum, Jesus also gathered around a table with distinguished religious leaders and Pharisees, who were the legal experts of the day. These dinners usually included some heated conversation about the truths of the Kingdom of God and the condition of their hearts. Jesus not only engaged Heaven’s outsiders and holy rollers, but He also dined with His disciples and supporters, His nearest and dearest, His friends and companions. He attended weddings, funerals, and banquets. On most occasions, Jesus was on the receiving end of a hospitality invitation, but there are accounts where Christ did, in fact, play the role of dinner host and even chef!
The Bible tells us in Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” Why is that? Because
- Jesus knew there was something significant about what happens around the table.
He knew that a simple act of hospitality created the perfect platform for emotional, relational, and spiritual transactions to take place. For Jesus, the table was a primary platform for ministry, not because He was a foodie but because He was a people person. And He knew what my grandmother Euna Mae knew — that food was a means to an end, and the end was demonstrating the goodness of God in the lives of others. Breaking bread and sharing the cup allowed Jesus to find common ground with people from all walks of life, from all socioeconomic levels, and from all spiritual conditions.
- Jesus used the intimacy of a shared meal to express truth and grace. He used the ordinary of the table to impart His extraordinary love and care.
It was in this way that Rosaria Butterfield’s life was completely changed. Through the faithful, generous hospitality extended to her by neighbors who knew Christ, she came to understand God’s great plan for her life. She went on to pen The Gospel Comes with a House Key about the Lord’s capturing her heart over years of hospitality shown by her believing friends. She considers that hospitality is ground zero for the Christian faith, saying, “Hospitality, biblically speaking, takes strangers and makes them neighbors, and takes neighbors and makes them family of God.”2 Jesus knew this. He modeled this!
Christ used the most basic, ordinary, daily activity of eating a meal as a primary tool for meeting emotional and spiritual needs. He invited people to gather, feeding and nourishing them. He loved, welcomed, and served. Christ strategically used the ministry of hospitality in all kinds of ways with all kinds of folks to bring about restoration and inspiration. Over the setting of a meal, He evangelized and discipled, confronted and corrected both the lost and the found. People were not only filled but they were also satisfied. And their lives were never the same.
In Luke 5:27–32, we see Jesus at the table with sinners.
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow Me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed Him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His disciples, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Levi was a tax collector turned Christ follower. In recent days, Levi had experienced a radical conversion, responding to the call of Christ in his life. So, he left everything behind to follow the great Teacher who had changed everything for him. Levi left behind his position, his title, and his old ways. With a new leader, new values, and a new purpose, Levi had become a new man!
For your understanding and for all the accountants reading this, let me explain why Levi’s having been a tax collector equated him with being a sinner. In biblical times, tax collectors weren’t considered honest folk. They were greedy, dishonest, and often took entirely more than they should. They took advantage of their position by taking advantage of the people around them. And because tax collectors in Israel were most often Jews who worked for the Romans, they were considered traitors.
As a sinner on the other side of repentance, Levi wanted to express his newfound love for the Lord Jesus, so he held a banquet to celebrate his new Teacher and the new life he had found in Him! It wasn’t just a casual get-together; no, the Bible describes it as a great banquet! Having a career as a tax collector would mean that Levi was a man of reasonable fortune, so this gathering would’ve been a night to remember. It also would imply that not only his new friends in the faith would be attending but also his cronies from his tax-collecting days. You’ve likely found yourself at a gathering with similarly polar-opposite people. Can you imagine what this event was like? What did they talk about? Did the guests curb their conversation out of respect for the holy man in their midst? Or did they let loose with topics and tenor that were true to form? Was Levi embarrassed by his old friends in front of his new King? How did Jesus interact with Levi’s friends? Did the guest of honor leave early or linger into the night?
We don’t know exactly how that evening went down or what took place at Levi’s house. Scripture doesn’t say. But we do know that Jesus was in the business of using the table as a bridge to build relationships in order to reach the lost. He was known for creating common ground to lead to higher ground. After all, both sinners and rabbis alike have to eat, right?
Although the goings-on at the banquet are not revealed, the purpose of Christ’s accepting the invitation to dine with sinners is revealed. In Luke 5:30, the religious elite known as the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ followers. In my best southern mother translation: “For cryin’ out loud! Why on earth is He hangin’ out with all those heathens? Didn’t His Daddy teach Him any better?” *clutches pearls*
Without missing a beat, Jesus declared that He came to call sinners to repentance. To heal them of their sickness — that is, their sin. To offer them the life-changing, course-altering hope that Levi found. To save their souls.
The Pharisees couldn’t fathom why Jesus would gather or break bread with people who lived so utterly opposite of what He believed and taught. They assumed that sharing a meal with them was equivalent with accepting and approving of the lifestyles that filled the room. But dear ones, Jesus wasn’t approving sin or promoting sin. His proximity came with a purpose. His meals were missional. Christ said He came to seek and save that which was lost. And one of the ways He did that was to break bread, drawing near to those far from God.
Excerpted with permission from Gather and Give by Amy Hannon, copyright Amy Hannon.
- Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discover Grace, Community, and Mission Around the Table (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 13.
- Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key (Crossway, 2018), https://vimeo.com/262120176.
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Let’s remember that we’re not endorsing other people’s lifestyle choices or beliefs just by hanging out with them. Let’s let others clutch their pearls if they must while we hang out with people who need Jesus and shine light into their lives with love. Come share your thoughts. Who are you sitting at the table with? ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full