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29

Eat a meal with your Neighbors

by
Scott Benson

Ask God to speak as you interact with today's Scripture and devotional.

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” — Matthew 9:9-13

Eating was an essential practice in Jesus’ ministry. In Luke’s Gospel, he tells ten stories of Jesus enjoying conversation around a meal. Jesus knew that combining good food with active listening could foster deeper friendships. The Gospel writers captured numerous episodes of Jesus eating with people: a wedding feast (John 2), miraculously feeding large crowds (Mark 6 & 8), a meal with His closest friends before His crucifixion (Luke 22), and breakfast on the beach with the disciples (John 21). Dave and Jon Ferguson offer fresh insight into the significance of sharing a meal in Jesus’ culture: 

It was a statement of friendship. It was an affirmation of that person's value, dignity, and worth. Who you ate with indicated who you loved and considered to be part of your social class. That's why it was so scandalous to the religious leaders that Jesus frequently ate with the lowest and most hated people of the day. Respectable rabbis didn't meet with those who weren't part of the “good people” group (Dave Ferguson and Jon Ferguson, B.L.E.S.S.: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World, p. 80).

That explains the religious leaders’ indignation over Jesus’ dining with His new recruit, Matthew, and his fellow tax collectors with their reputations as traitors and cheats. But eating with Matthew’s crew was the very first thing Jesus and Matthew did together. And given the socially unacceptable credentials of the clientele at their table, it only reinforced Jesus’ own reputation as a friend of sinners.

Today, the power of a shared meal is heightened simply because “neighbors seldom share meals together. In our individualistic society, hospitality is seen as an extravagant gesture of goodwill. And when the focus of the meal is centered on good conversation to get to know your neighbor, it comes across as a tremendously generous act” (Ferguson, p. 78).

So what if you were to invite one of your neighbors to coffee this week? Or consider hosting another family in sharing a meal together? Or maybe your life group could plan a barbecue for neighbors, co-workers, and friends? 

You might just find yourself helping others to eat their way into the Kingdom of God.

reflect

Answer the questions below and write down any other thoughts and prayers to God in your Life in Rhythm journal.

  1. In your experience, how has sharing a meal helped to deepen a friendship more quickly?
  2. In Matthew 9:9-13, why do you think the tax collectors and other sinners felt so comfortable to join Matthew in eating with Jesus?
  3. What might be some of your hesitations to invite someone to share a meal, dessert, or coffee?
  4. Who could you invite to share a meal, dessert, or coffee with this week?

Go deeper (optional)

Every day you'll have an opportunity to "go deeper" into God's Word by practicing the REAP study method. Read the following scripture and use your journal and the REAP method to unpack the following scripture and apply it to your life.

Romans 10:11-15
Learn more about reap