There is much to commend about A Meal with Jesus. If you are interested in being more missional in your Christianity the chapter of meals as mission is great. It talks practically about how important actually getting people in your house and sharing food builds relationship in ways that virtually no other activity can do.
There were also extended discussions using Luke as the primary text about the role of the meal in the life of Jesus. In most of the gospel of Luke, food or a meal is the setting for Jesus’ teaching and Jesus is almost always coming from or going to somewhere to eat. Luke also is very concerned with the poor. In most of his parables in Luke there is a coupling of one parable about a rich or prestigious person with either another parable about a poor person or another character in the parable being poor. Chester connects the meal and Jesus desire to eat with the people. Jesus ate with both the poor and despised and the rich and powerful. Jesus was always gracious to the poor and usually quite confrontational with those that are rich.
Unintentionally this book became another in my six month study of Luke. I am in my last Luke commentary now, but this book helped to reaffirm that scripture is not just about learning or about doing, it is about the way that we become Christians.
There is also a great thought by Chester in the context of one of his discussions of Jesus talking with some Pharisees over a meal. Chester says, “These verses also speak to a professionalized church ministry—a life seen as the epitome of godliness, but all but impossible for those not in full-time ministry.” Jesus was bringing the Pharisees down to size, not as much for what they were doing (observing the law, keeping ritually pure, etc.) but they way they were doing it. The Pharisees, like many of us, were doing life in a way that was unattainable to those around then and then holding themselves up as an example against the other, instead of empowering the other to do what they can.
The whole point of being a Pharisee was that they were trying to make everyone into priests. They were insisting that regular people fulfill the requirements that only the priests were asked to fulfill in scripture. It was their belief, that only when Israel became a nation of priests would the messiah come and free them from the Romans (not unlike how some Christians today believe about the second coming.) The priests had a reason to be holy and pure (they were offering sacrifice to God in the temple.) But the Pharisees took the external requirements of the priesthood (the purity laws) and clumsily placed them on people that could not possibly follow all the rules because they did not have the resources or ability to fulfill them.
I am sure I do this with others. I read a ridiculous amount of books and store up quotes and ideas and if not careful I can communicate that the way to be a good Christian is to do the same. I have time because I do not have a demanding job, I do not have children, I have a seminary degree, and I have a very patient wife that allows me to read and process in ways that are not obtainable to the majority of the world. In fact, this can be considered a crutch because others are doing quite well as Christians without all the other superficial evidence of faith.
I am planning on having a long meal with our small group tonight. We will share a good southern meal mostly prepared by my wife. Several in our small group are not from the south and want to know what a good southern meal really is, so we are having country fried steak, fried chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes, a couple vegetables and an apple pie. We will end the meal sharing communion, as the original christians did as part of a meal in a home. My best small group experiences have always been the ones where we were able to share the most meals. This is hard to do, people do not have space to feed 10 or 12 (or more). And preparing that much food takes time, money and planning. But I do agree with Chester that meals are important.
Meals are about humanness. I celebrate that. Meals (especially with children) are always messy (I am a nanny, I know all about that.) Meals, especially when shared, are places of grace (I have received that, especially when I was single). The Eucharist, a meal instituted by Christ, may be the most important part of understanding our relationship to the rest of the church.
In the end I still felt this book was missing something. I am not sure what. It was organized fairly well. It did not have a lot of fluff. It stayed on task. It was biblical. So I want to encourage people to read it, but I do want to say I felt like it was missing something.