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Grace at the Table

I was unfamiliar with the work of Tim Chester before reading A Meal with Jesus. However, I was pleasantly surprised after reading the book by the author's careful attention to the running theme of grace throughout the meals that Jesus shared with people and his followers. At the beginning of the book, Chester immediately draws attention to a radical point in the ministry of Jesus by saying, "The grace of God is readically subverise. Running through Luke's Gospel is the message that the last day will involve a radical reversal in which the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The meals of Jesus picture that day, as he welcomes the marginal and confronts the self-righteous and self-reliant" (27). Jesus met people in the midst of their chaotic mess of a life, he even dined with tax collectors and sinners. We often times think that the only type of fellowship is just hanging out with believers and sharing a meal, but we often miss the point that sharing a meal with strangers is most often how Jesus introduced people to grace, to his kingdom. This kind of message goes a long way to breaking the Christian mindset of its fortress mentality (to be unscathed by the world we must draw away from the world towards believers).

In describing the lack of hospitality that Simon gave Jesus in Luke 7, Chester invites us to think about how we treat others. He says, "Whenever we look down on someone for being smelly, or disorganized, or lazy, or emotional, or promiscuous, or socially inept, or bitter; then we're like graceless Simon" (45). The prostitute showed Jesus her servan'ts heart by her acts of hospitality, while Simon failed to be a gracious host. When we merely judge on appearances, we lose sight of the radical message of grace,being full of pride we fail to see our desperate need of grace. Chester seems to indicate that this lack of a need for for grace to others brings with it a deficient attitude towards God's grace to oneself (45). Instead of being patronizing to others, the grace of God clears our hearts of airs of superiority and brings us down to level field with others. Chester sees that enacted community begins with a true vision of both grace and our condition.

Chester points out in the chapter on Enacted Hope that the other gospels besides Luke point out the ability of Jesus to feed the people in the fish and loaves narrative, but Luke's gospel is focused on the inability of the disciples to feed the people (62). Why is this important? The gospel story is written to draw the disciples ministry away from heroic deeds and self-reliance to the one who provides the Bread of Life. The leftovers after the feeding of the five thousand is a reminder that Jesus' mission is enough for their mission to the world. Chester goes onto beg the question that we sometimes get into: how can I change the world with the gospel? He points out that burnout is inevitable if we are left to our own devices. The Host of the banquet is Jesus and anytime we don't point other needy sinners to him, we run out of juice.

After looking at a few places where I think Chester does a great job at pulling together Jesus' meals with other, grace, and community, I want to look at another point of emphasis that I think is particularly helpful in the book. Chester does not seem to make a big deal out of this point, but in practice he does a very good job and wedding a biblical theology with a faith that is evident in works. After reading each chapter, I found myself asking two questions that were answered in the affirmative: Does Chester make much of Jesus in his writing about meals, grace, and community? Secondly, does his making much of Jesus lead us to worship (in the broad sense of carrying out grace of God in every area of life)? I was glad to see that Chester answered both questions in his wonderful book. The only question I would have and it could be beyond the scope of the book: How does the Old Testament witness of charity, of lovingkindess to the downcast build a foundation for the teaching a Jesus in a more nuanced way?

Lastly, I thought the last few chapters were good reminders of how hospitality could be used in the ancient world as boundary markers, but for the Christian we can get into the same rut. We invite the same people and talk about the same issues, but fail to see that serving others takes hard work. One of the big challenges for me was that hospitality means that I don't have to be mindlessly busy all tht time, taking time for hospitality causes me to choose to be available. Being busy can actually cause harm to being hospitable, because we focus so much on ourselves that we lose sight of others and their needs. Overall, I thought this book was an excellent work that could be used in small group study, read with a friend or in class. Pastors, leaders, those wanting more out of life will find great encouragement and challenge in this book.

Much thanks to Crossway Books for the review copy to read.


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