Food as Love
I fell in love with my wife while she was making me cheese on toast. I’d only known her for a few weeks. It had been “love” at first sight for me, except of course that my initial “love” was mere attraction. No, it was the cheese on toast that won my heart. It wasn’t that she could make cheese on toast—I was looking for a little more than that in a wife. But that simple act of service, done without thought to herself (plus her beautiful hands), captured my heart. My response at the time wasn’t so reflective. I just knew she was the one for me.
I’ve now spent more than half my lifetime with the girl who once made me cheese on toast. Half a lifetime of shared meals. I still regard every meal she cooks as a gift. I think I’ve expressed my appreciation every time. It’s not hard work. It’s more an involuntary exclamation of delight than a disciplined duty. But it’s not just the food. Each meal is an embodiment of her love for me. And for our two daughters. And our many guests. Her love doesn’t consist merely in her cooking. But her cooking gives tangible—and edible—form to her love.
Food matters. Meals matter. Meals are full of significance. “Few acts are more expressive of companionship than the shared meal. . . . Someone with whom we share food is likely to be our friend, or well on the way to becoming one.”1
“The Son of Man Came . . .”
How would you complete the sentence: “The Son of Man came . . .”? The Son of Man came . . . preaching the Word . . . to establish the kingdom of God . . . to die on the cross.
Perhaps the question is more revealing if we make it, “We should go . . .”? We should go . . . campaign for political change . . . preach on street corners . . . make the most of new media . . . adapt to the culture we want to reach.
There are three ways the New Testament completes the sentence, “The Son of Man came . . .” “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45); “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10); “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking . . .” (Luke 7:34).
The first two are statements of purpose. Why did Jesus come? He came to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost. The third is a statement of method. How did Jesus come? He came eating and drinking.
“Son of Man” is Daniel’s label for one who comes before God to receive authority over the nations (Daniel 7). And now Jesus, the Son of Man, has come. But how does he come? Does he come with an army of angels? Does he come on the clouds of heaven? Does he come with a blaze of glory? No, he comes “eating and drinking.”
The Jews of Jesus’s day would have said the Son of Man will come to vindicate the righteous and defeat God’s enemies. They didn’t expect him to come to seek and save the lost. And they would have said the Son of Man will come in glory and power. They would never have said he would come eating and drinking.
And Luke is not talking about just subsistence eating and drinking. Jesus says: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34). A glutton, of course, is someone who eats too much, and a drunkard is someone who drinks too much. Jesus was seriously into eating and drinking—so much so that his enemies accused him of doing it to excess. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel the Pharisees and their scribes said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink” (Luke 5:33). Jesus spent his time eating and drinking—a lot of his time. He was a party animal. His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher of wine.
Luke’s Gospel is full of stories of Jesus eating with people:
- In Luke 5 Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners at the home of Levi
- In Luke 7 Jesus is anointed at the home of Simon the Pharisee during a meal.
- In Luke 9 Jesus feeds the five thousand.
- In Luke 10 Jesus eats in the home of Martha and Mary
- In Luke 11 Jesus condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law at a meal.
- In Luke 14 Jesus is at a meal when he urges people to invite the poor to their meals rather than their friends.
- In Luke 19 Jesus invites himself to dinner with Zacchaeus.
- In Luke 22 we have the account of the Last Supper.
- In Luke 24 the risen Christ has a meal with the two disciples in Emmaus, and then later eats fish with the disciples in Jerusalem.
Robert Karris concludes: “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.”2
Even when Jesus is not eating, references to food abound throughout the Gospel. In Luke 14 Jesus tells a parable of a great banquet. In Luke 15 Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son, which ends with a party. In Luke 16 he contrasts a rich man “who feasted sumptuously every day” (Luke 15:19) with a beggar “who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” Luke tells about the women who provided food for Jesus (Luke 8:2–3). When asked if few are saved, Jesus warns people to ensure they themselves enter the kingdom, for on the last day people will say, “we ate and drank in your presence. . . .” But “the master of the house” will say, “I do not know where you come from. Depart from me. . . .” Instead, “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (see Luke 13:22–30). In Luke 22 Jesus tells his disciples: “I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom . . .” (Luke 22:29–30). Food is used to describe salvation and judgment (Luke 1:53; Luke 6:21, 25), and people are described in terms of good food and bad food (Luke 3:17; Luke 6:43–46; Luke 12:1).
Meals are more than food. They’re social occasions. They represent friendship, community, and welcome.
Jesus is called “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” This is why eating and drinking were so important in the mission of Jesus: they were a sign of his friendship with tax collectors and sinners. His “excess” of food and “excess” of grace are linked. In the ministry of Jesus, meals were enacted grace, community, and mission.
So the meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus’s meals are not just symbols; they’re also application. They’re not just pictures; they’re the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff. It’s not ideas. It’s not theories. It’s, well, it’s food, and you put it in your mouth, taste it, and eat it. And meals are more than food. They’re social occasions. They represent friendship, community, and welcome.
I don’t want to reduce church and mission to meals, but I do want to argue that meals should be an integral and significant part of our shared life. They represent the meaning of mission, but they more than represent it: they embody and enact our mission. Community and mission are more than meals, but it’s hard to conceive of them without meals. Peter Leithart says:
For Jesus “feast” was not just a “metaphor” for the kingdom. As Jesus announced the feast of the kingdom, He also brought it into reality through His own feasting. Unlike may theologians, He did not come preaching an ideology, promoting ideas, or teaching moral maxims. He came teaching about the feast of the kingdom, and He came feasting in the kingdom. Jesus did not go around merely talking about eating and drinking; he went around eating and drinking. A lot.3
If I pull down books on mission and church planting from my shelves, I can read about contextualization, evangelism matrices, postmodern apologetics, and cultural hermeneutics. I can look at diagrams that tell me how people can be converted or discover the steps required to plant a church. It all sounds impressive, cutting edge, and sophisticated. But this is how Luke describes Jesus’s mission strategy: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.”
We can make community and mission sound like specialized activities that belong to experts. Some people have a vested interest in doing this, because it makes them feel “extraordinary.” Or we focus on dynamic personalities who can hold an audience and lead a movement. Some push mission beyond the scope of “ordinary” Christians. But the Son of Man came eating and drinking. It’s not complicated. True, it’s not always easy—it involves people invading your space or going to places where you don’t feel comfortable. But it’s not complicated. If you share a meal three or four times a week and you have a passion for Jesus, then you will be building up the Christian community and reaching out in mission.
- Carolyn Steel, Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives (London: Chatto & Windus, 2008), 212.
- Robert J. Karris, Eating Your Way through Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville, MN: Liturgi- cal Press, 2006), 14.
- Peter Leithart, Blessed Are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord’s Supper (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000), 115.
This article is adapted from A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester.
As you gather around the table this month, read about the biblical importance of gathering over the breaking of bread.
As we eat the bread and drink the cup, we remember him, just as he told us to. We look back with thankful hearts to the cross.
Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom.
Devotional Bible reading is vital for every believer in the same way that eating is vital for every human—it's just the way you're nourished. It's what you do to get stronger and grow.