It seems that the only image of Jesus that got pierced into our heads is of him hanging on the cross. Therefore, whenever we think of him we’re left in the dark moment of his death, rather than in the joy of his resurrection and life. That being said let me tell you a few stories of our Savior to help you catch a clearer picture of the joy he must have been to be around.
It doesn’t take long to come in contact with Jesus’ joy. By the second chapter of John’s gospel we see it attested to at a wedding. After running out of wine too early into the festivities, Jesus supernaturally fills up 6 stone water jars with 100-150 gallons of wine so that the party can continue on—and he didn’t cheap out. Tradition at the time was to pull out the worst wine at the end since everyone was already pretty tipsy and not paying attention to taste anymore, but Jesus pulled out wine that was better tasting than anything they had already consumed up to that point.
Even the symbolism here is joyful. Jesus filled up a bunch of Old Testament pots that were supposed to be used to wash your hands, with his New Testament wine, a symbol of his blood, mercy and grace. He’s replacing the old way with the new way. He’s saved the best for last and there’s plenty of it to go around. And he continues to bring the joy of new things along with him throughout John’s gospel: a new temple (Jn 2:13-22), a new birth (Jn 3:1-15), new water (Jn 4:13-14) and a new place to worship at (Jn 4:21-24). He is doing a new thing (Is 43:19) and there’s joy in that! You know this from the new things you’ve experienced in your own life!
John’s first sign of turning water into wine isn’t the only time we’re given a picture of Jesus being a bit of a party animal. He himself said that people accused him of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Mt 11:19), which is not an accusation you typically make of a very serious and somber person. Both food and wine were a constant part of his ministry—so much so that Jesus decided to make wine and bread a sacred symbol of Christianity!
Jesus came into the world nestled in a feeding trough and left it offering his disciples dinner. And now today we are to remember him in eating and drinking—yes, even our remembrance of him is to be something we joyfully do together.
My point is, Jesus was super into food. I have two theories as to why this is: (1) Jesus is used to feasting like crazy with his friends in Heaven or (2) there’s no food in Heaven and Jesus couldn’t get enough of it while he was here on earth. I put my money on the former. It just seems that eating is the Kingdom way. Tim Chester says that, “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.”
Sure, Jesus’ ministry started with fasting (Lk 4:1), but throughout the rest of Luke’s gospel we see a lot of feasting: he had a great feast with a tax collector (5:29); his disciples were compared to John the Baptist’s in that John’s fast but Jesus’ eat (5:33); the disciples ate grain from a field that they walked through, creating a whole stink with the local Pharisees (6:1); he ate with a pharisee (7:36); he fed 5,000 people (9:10-17); he sent 72 disciples into different towns and told them to eat with people (10:1-12); he taught us the Lord’s prayer which literally teaches us to ask for food (11:3); he dined at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees (14:1); he was pointed out to have eaten with sinners (15:2); he ate Passover with the disciples and turned it into the Lord’s Supper (22:7-23); he told the disciples they would eat with him again in his kingdom (22:30); he broke bread with some disciples after his resurrection (24:30); and he asked some other disciples after the resurrection for some food (24:41-42).
So WWJD—what would Jesus do? Well, as he himself states in Luke 7:34, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking,” so I suppose he’d eat food with people: friends, enemies, and complete strangers; it doesn’t matter who—food is just how he does things. “Show hospitality. Invite others to dine with you,” says Brett McCracken. “Follow Jesus’s example. Share food with strangers. Throw long dinner parties.”
It’s a bit of a bizarre concept to a world that spends most of its time engaging the community via the internet. “Get to know a neighbor? Invite someone over for food? Talk to someone in person?” Yes. And do it up. Have a good time.
Jesus was so into eating with people that it was confusing.
“Hey John, how many people you think we got here today?”
“Aw, gee, I dunno Jesus. I’d say a few thousand maybe?”
“About how many thousand you think?”
“I guess maybe like, five thousand or so? Why?”
“Five thousand, eh? Yeah that looks about right. Alright, let’s feed them.”
“Uh… say what now?”
What an experience that must have been! It must have been enjoyable because Matthew reports Jesus feeding an additional 4,000 more just one chapter after feeding the 5,000. Someone needs to put that McDonald’s ticker thing on a sign for Jesus: “Over 9,000 fish served since last week.”
Nobody wants to go to a joyless feast. Trust me, I’ve done it plenty of times. I remember having a good time at a potluck once when someone pulled out their Bible and started preaching and crying, effectively taking the joy out of the meal. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to stop eating and let my food get cold or keep shoving food into my mouth while they wept.
I’m guilty of this too though. In attempts to make the sacred art of eating together more sacred, I once pulled out a Bible at a small group dinner. “Let’s talk over this passage while we eat,” I said. The life, joy, and spirit was sucked right out of the room. No one wanted to talk and it ruined what was perhaps already a sacred moment. Brandon Hatmaker seemed to find groups with the same problem:
there is one thing all of these groups [we attend] have in common that is a deciding factor in getting a “yes” from the Hatmakers: they are enjoyable. Maybe that sounds overly simple, but it’s true. I’ve had groups that were a drag, and every time I went, I felt as if I died a little inside. I’ve been in groups that have just warned me plumb out, and I’d come home exhausted. I would dread going to them, so now I don’t go anymore.
I find that deeper “spiritual” moments happen organically over food. That’s how my friend, Pastor Jamie Rye does things in his house church ministry. In sharing some of the work he’s being doing out in Toledo, he told me:
The best way to bring people together from all different backgrounds is to find a commonality that all people have. And what that comes down to is food. So whenever we meet for anything, we create space for food. Even our weekly groups get together around food. We gather people around a table together and get people from all different backgrounds: Sunni, Shiite, Christians, Atheists. Any of the barriers that we might have, play a lesser importance to the fact that we’re eating together. Jesus did the exact same thing.
I love this kind of ministry. Jamie told me that one Muslim friend keeps ingredients for food on hand at all times, because she always wants to be able to whip something together for someone should they happen to come by. He also mentioned that they invited a Muslim family to be a part of one of the first dinners they ever served. At the end of the meal the father said, “In all my years of living in the U.S., I’ve never had an American invite me over to eat. Because of this, we’re brothers now.”
“The table is the great equalizer in relationships,” missiologist Michael Frost points out. “When we eat together we discover the inherent humanity of all people. We share stories. And hopes. And fears. And disappointments. People open up to each other. And we ourselves can open up to share the same things—including our faith in Jesus.”
Eating in celebration with others has been a habit dating all the way back to Leviticus 23 when several religious feasts were put into motion: Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of the Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths. We started the Bible off early with eating and we’ll be doing it all the way to the end when we partake in the marriage supper between Jesus and the church (Rev 19:6-10). It’s biblically clear that eating and partying is of Judeo-Christian value!
Today, food is becoming an evangelistic method just as it was in Jesus’ time. I recently heard of a “Dinner Church” movement getting started. Michael Frost has even taught eating together as an important missiological habit that we should practice three times a week, with at least one of those times being with someone outside of our church.
It’s in my small group that I find my source of spiritual joy. We started off as a group that was supposed to do Bible studies and mission projects, but in the end we became a group of committed friends that simply practice eating and playing as a spiritual discipline and we’ve been practicing it weekly for 3-4 years now.
Many churches (if not most) would consider the simple act of eating and talking as an unspiritual moment, but that’s where I get fed every week, because as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” We’ve grown so close that we often stay in contact throughout the week in a chat room. You never know what is going to happen there. We might joke around, start a gif war, offer up prayer requests, or send out a last minute invitation to go get some food or see a movie.
Without these people in our lives, our family has little to keep our spirits up. The married life can often focus so inward on itself that it ends up having no relational support. The married life with kids can become even more inward focused, so I consider these times of friendship to be pure joy.
What is it that I’m experiencing in these moments? Not just joy, but sacrament. Author Rachel Held Evans helped me figure that one out:
“When we put a kingdom-spin on ordinary things—water, wine, leadership, marriage, friendship, feasting, sickness, forgiveness— we see that they can be holy, they can point us to something greater than ourselves, a fantastic mystery that brings meaning to everything. We make something sacramental when we make it like the kingdom.”
For me, eating with my friends is Kingdom. Laughing and playing and hearing their stories brings me joy. And this time with them isn’t just sacrament, but intimacy too, just as Jim Gaffigan points out:
Sitting and eating a meal with someone is intimate. I try to eat as many meals as I can with my kids. Sure, I try to eat as many meals as I can in general, but eating with my children is important. There we are together, eating and talking, spilling and throwing food. Sometimes my kids misbehave too. It’s a great time to force myself away from all the other distractions in my life and sit around a table sharing an experience with my family. Even baby Patrick in his high chair knows it’s important. He laughs along and babbles in agreement. He is in the mix. The entire family is participating in something together. Jeannie and I try to teach manners and civilize these little monsters, but anyone with young children knows it’s never a relaxing experience. It’s just good to eat together. It’s a unique time you can share with your family and it’s been going on for thousands of years.
You can consider eating and drinking with others to be as neutral a territory as you want, but it seems to have been key to Jesus’ ministry. It was how God-in-flesh often conversed with strangers and spent time with others. N.T. Wright points out that, “Most writers now agree that eating with sinners was one of the most characteristic and striking marks of Jesus’ regular activities.” And he must have been a pretty good host because it’s not everyday that holy people pull off having a meal with sinners.
Embrace food. Embrace joy. For even Solomon in all of his wisdom said, “I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun” (Ec 8:15).
This post is an excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.
Chester, Tim. A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table. Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2011. p. 13.
McCracken, Brett. Gray Matters: Navigating the Space between Legalism & Liberty. Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Books, 2013, p. 68.
Frost, Michael. Surprise the World. p. 39, 22.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: the Classic Exploration of Christian Community. Translated by John W. Doberstein, New York, HarperOne, 1954, p. 19.
Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2015, p. 255.
Gaffigan, Jim. Food: A Love Story, p. 328.
Wright, N.T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis, Fortress, 1996. p. 431.