Exile: Eating with ‘sinners’


I am in the process of writing my last paper for the course, Exile: A Motif for Postmodern Ministry. I just finished reading a chapter on Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture by Michael Frost.

The chapter is called “Exiles at the table”. He pretty much focus on the dinner table and how exiles throughout the Bible were often encountered making choices by the food they eat or not eat. Like Daniel selecting a vegetarian diet (Daniel 1:12-13) to keep himself abstain from being defiled. Or Joseph (Genesis 45:6-7) gaining the vision from God and foreseeing that there will be a drought in Egypt. As such, deliberately storing the grain instead of squandering it . And lastly, Paul (1 Cor 9:19-23, 10:31-11:1) discussed on what is acceptable to eat and not to eat in the letter to the Corinthians.

He (Paul) argues for a freedom and a flexibility that allow the matter to be determined on a case-by-case basis, but by no means does he rule out the possibility that at times the most missionally appropriate response will be to share a table with Gentiles, eat their meat, and impart the love of Christ to them…What we eat or drink is not the most important thing; rather, we should be about seeking the good of others.” – Pg 165, Frost.

John Dickson, in his book, Promoting the Gospel, summarized what Paul is trying to say in three points:

  1. We should live with a desire to bring glory to the one true Lord (1 Cor. 10:31)
  2. What we do should not act in a way that put other Christians salvation at risk (1 Cor. 8-10).
  3. We are to actively pursue others’ salvation (1 Cor. 10:33).

Michael Frost goes on discussing about food and glorifying God. I find it fascinating how Jesus and Paul use the most mundane activity (eating) as a showcase to glorify God. I don’t think I ever heard of a sermon or a large discussion within the church about the importance of eating. What Jesus and later, Paul did was bring what is secular into sacred. (Side note: In effect, there is no secular and sacred as everything is sacred [Mark 12: 29-31 Greatest Commandment].

I figure, Paul can talk about other important things that a Christian do. Worship together, baptism etc. Instead, he focuses on food. “His table life is arranged primarily to give glory to God, and secondarily to actively promote faith in the lives of others.” (Pg. 166, Frost).

Frost continues to discuss that we ought to share food with non-believers. So they can see the joy and freedom we have in Christ. This alone, is very missional.

“The exile’s table should be a place of justice, generosity, laughter, safety, and conviviality. Serve up something delicious, and then just watch the conversation flow and trust God to stick his nose in somewhere.” ( pg 1.68, Frost)

I met up with some university friends for sushi buffet on Fri night. Normally, I ain’t a big fan on buffet. I do not find a lot of fulfillment in stuffing myself with food when there are so many people starving. At the same time, God told us to take care of the earth (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). Indirectly, the resources gathered to feed our hunger is draining the world’s natural resources. It ain’t a surprise and perhaps it is our nature to not look at the long term. Where will we find fish when they are all pulled from the ocean?

What I find the most fascinating is how Paul, the apostle, did not set a black and white rule when it comes to eating. He ain’t legalistic (he was, before he met Jesus). To him, to dine with sinners and pagans and eat the meat as long as you don’t cause others to stumble. In everything you eat (and do), eat (do) it in the glory of God and shared it among others.

I do not think my university friends (all non-believers) will appreciate me coming down on them and say, “do you know eating buffet you are killing the world..oh by the way, accept Christ”.

Instead, we sat and we had a great time. I put my ‘rule’ aside so that I can connect with them. For a brief moment, we shared life. We talked about the world economy, asked how each other is doing. A lot of laughs over a table of sushi and sashimi.

As I was reading this chapter, I thought about R and D whom I had been visiting for a few months. We shared a meal. Maybe a coffee. Or pho. With food, discussions about life often stirred up.

One of Frost’s criticisms of today’s traditional church model is that Christians spent majority of their time and their meals in the church and with other Christians. He ended the chapter discussing where Jesus called Levi (Matthew) to be His disciple and Levi (Matthew) held a great banquet with Jesus, tax collectors, and ‘sinners’ (Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2: 13-17, Luke 5:27-31).

It was probably because of parties like this that Jesus was open to the charges of gluttony or avarice leveled at him by the Pharisees. Carousing and feasting with “sinners’ was considered profane and ungodly, not something for a rabbi like Jesus to be involved in. But it’s exactly where we would find the exile Jesus, eating with terrified Tutsis in Rwanda, with writers and artists in Paris, with the homeless at St. John’s…There’s a church in a Melbourne, Australia, inner-city area created especially for street kids, for homeless children, for drug-addicted teenage prostitutes, and the mentally ill. It’s called Matthew’s Party.” – (pg 175-178, Frost).

It is interesting, if not too coincidental that Jesus focus on the lower status of people in the society. At a Pharisee’s house, Jesus said to the host to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind (Luke 14:14). Right after that, Jesus gave a parable on a master who was preparing a banquet and invited many guests. These guests did not show up and instead were busy with other things (bought a field, taking care of the cattle and just got marry). And guessed who the master invited? The poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind (Luke 14:16-24).

Jesus said this parable in response to someone saying “blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).

As most of us have the blessings to eat three meals a day without going hungry. It dawned on me that the act of eating, whether with Christians or not, is a reflection of glorifying God. Having meals with R and D, it also dawned on me that it is possible to change the world. To bring fourth the kingdom of God. With hospitality and generosity. With sincere heart and sharing of life. Either over a plate of Vietnamese dish or a simple Canadian hot dog.

My b-day is coming up. A bro said, “what if this is your last b-day, what would you like to do?” I like to spend it with the “sinners”. Together and see the Kingdom unfold in the process….

Matthew 25:34-36

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

By Cliff

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