Meal scenes in Luke’s Gospel and their power to transform our lives (and more!)

I read an article entitled “A Sinner and a Pharisee: Challenge at Simon’s Table in Luke 7:36–50” by Kylie Crabbe in Pacifica 24 (2011), 247–266. I like this article and have learned a lot from it.

Luke 7:36–50 is about Jesus’ conversation with Simon the Pharisee at his house. In this meal scene the anointing of Jesus by a sinful woman with perfume takes centre stage. Here I will cite a few things from the early part of the article.

Overlapping connections between these [meal] scenes suggest the following common elements for meal encounters: Jesus’ presence at a meal; a crowd or chorus; an action that prompts discussion’ an opponent; and an unexpected revelation (cf. 5:27–32; 7:36–50; 9:10–17; 10:38–42; 11:37–52; 14:1–24; 19:1–10). (p. 250; emphasis added)

Such experience [of encountering the events and meal scenes in Luke by the reader] is inevitably transformative but, as the meals reveal, also costly. In Lukan meal scenes, I suggest, the threshold moment places characters in the doorway to an experience of eschatological significance, made available through meal fellowship with Jesus. In so doing, the meals invitation before all who encounter Jesus. (p. 250)

The meals also shed light on the character of the kingdom Jesus proclaims. This is a kingdom not only described in the central themes of abundance and feasting, but also in reversal (13:28–29; 14:11, 23–24; 22:24–27). Its unconventional priorities, demonstrated at table with Jesus, cause some characters to verge on rejecting the acceptance that they have been offered. Indeed, as they embody the broader themes from across the Gospel, meals also underline the developing tragedy that the one who has proclaimed the Lord’s acceptance is himself ultimately rejected. (p. 251; emphasis original)

Finally, these meals become proleptic experiences of the kingdom by their nature as intimate encounters of koinônia at table with the one who is messianically anointed and empowered by the Spirit (4:1, 18). As Smith acknowledges, in these meals, Jesus “somehow symbolized in his person the presence of the Kingdom”. [from D. E. Smith, From Symposium to Eucharist, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003, 234.] The question before fellow diners, foreshadowed in Jesus’ sayings and drawn out by meal scenes, is who can respond to such an encounter with unreserved participation. (p. 251)

So, here we are. Meal scenes in Luke have transforming power. But at the same time they can be costly. The readers—both then and now—are invited to participate in Jesus’ mission without reservation.

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