1 John 3.11-24 is a section of scripture that details the love that Christians are to have for one another. All of us would affirm that love for brothers and sisters is an integral part of the Christian life, however knowing how to express that love can be more difficult, especially in our individualistic and autonomous society. We have grown to be accustomed to staying within our bubbles and not venturing out unless we know that it is safe, and retreating quickly back inside the bubble when things are new or different. While many of us find this mode of operation as familiar and comfortable, it severely inhibits our ability to come alongside our brothers and sisters and show them the love the New Testament talks about.
Most of the time, it's not that we don't want to be loving toward others, but simply that we infrequently have the occasion to do so. We're busy, and getting to know new people takes time and effort - time and effort that we usually don't have. Thankfully, there's a very practical way to show love to brothers and sisters in Christ, and to do so through a very simple way that's already a part of our daily routines: eating.
Believe it or not, the act eating meals plays a significant role in the gospels. Jesus is recorded in the gospels as sharing several meals with all different sorts of people. Some scholars have even referred to this trend as Jesus "eating his way through the gospels." (For a handy chart of meals that Jesus shared with others in the gospel of Luke, for example, see here. For a more in-depth treatment of Jesus' use of the shared meal in his ministry, see this book.) Indeed, quite frequently, Jesus can be founding munching and snacking with people within his sphere of influence. Each of these shared meals afforded him an opportunity to enter into the lives of the people with whom he was eating. Many of the meals that Jesus is recorded as eating in the gospels are also accompanied by times of teaching, healing, or other such miraculous work. Put simply, there is power in the time of a shared meal. How so?
1. You get to know people you otherwise wouldn't. Several times Jesus ate with people who were "off limits" or out of bounds for him to be eating with. Consider the sinful woman of Luke 7.36-50. She was considered a cultural taboo because of her unnamed sin. A meal afforded Jesus the opportunity to meet her, get to know her, see past the pre-conceived notion of her, and speak into her situation. Who do you know (that you don't really know) that you could get to know better through a shared meal?
2. You get to know people you otherwise wouldn't. Beyond just a surface knowledge of someone, like the kind of relationship you have with a casual acquaintance, a shared meal allows you to go deeper. Consider the meal that Jesus shared with Zacchaeus in Luke 19. After Jesus' initial interaction with Zacchaeus, Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus' house for supper. Presumably, during that time, Jesus "went deeper" with Zacchaues through the conversation afforded by a shared meal. This deeper level of intimacy led Zacchaeus to significant life-change.
3. You get to encourage people in Christ. In Mark 2 Jesus is eating with the newly converted Levi (Matthew) and his friends (tax collectors and sinners). These were people who were in a bad place in life and needed encouragement. In fact, Jesus says that's why he was there (verse 17). Who do you know who might benefit from some encouragement over a shared meal?
4. You get to know how you can serve and pray for people. When Jesus celebrated passover with his disciples for the last time, the evening began with him washing their feet - a debased task reserved for the lowest of slaves. Although the disciples didn't realize it, this is exactly the kind of service they needed at the time (John 13.7-8). Getting to know someone over a shared meal exposes how you can serve them in practical ways and pray for them on a regular basis.
5. You get to know what people are dealing with in their lives. Several of the meals Jesus shared with people dealt with some potentially hard subjects (see Luke 7.36-70, 10.38-42, and 14.1-24, for example). Sharing a meal with someone - and the conversation that comes as a result - can lead to walls coming down and people dropping their guard. In these times, we can open up to each other and discover what's going on beneath the surface, even when it exposes difficult situations and circumstances. These times can afford us the opportunity to insert ourselves into the lives of others and see how we can help, support, love, and maybe even correct them during the hard times.
6. You get to celebrate the things you have in common. One of the most joyful meals recorded in the gospels must surely come in Luke 24, when Jesus shares a meal with his disciples after his resurrection. In that meal, all participants rejoiced in the commonality they had in the risen Savior. When we share a meal with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are able to celebrate our commonality in Christ, even if we have nothing else in common. Followers of Christ are united in their commonality through him. Because of this, the conversation at a meal shared between believers never lags.
These are just some of the trends that we see taking place when Jesus shares a meal with someone in the gospels. There are certainly many other benefits to sharing a meal with someone. For instance, it's a good time to catch up with old friends, tell stories, tell jokes, laugh, and of course, enjoy good food. Sharing a meal with someone is probably the most basic and simple - yet practical and effective - way that we can show love to our brothers and sisters. Indeed, there is power in a shared meal. Invite someone over to your house tonight and find out for yourself.