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Meeting Jesus at the dinner table

Manoj Raithatha explores the possibilities of food-centred fellowship with Simply Eat

As someone who came to faith from a Hindu background, I love sharing the awe-inspiring story of Jesus Christ with others. This gospel message meets our innermost need and deserves to be heard by everyone. Intent on grabbing daily opportunities to share God’s amazing grace, I have pursued all sorts of strategies, and many would describe me as a serial evangelist. Yet, it was not that long ago that I realised I had failed to model one of the most profound ways Jesus shared the kingdom.

When we read the gospels, it soon becomes clear that Jesus intentionally allocated time to eat with people, and that these meals were about far more than just food. We see Him eat with His disciples at the last supper, instituting the new covenant, and with the multitudes at the feeding of the 5,000, pointing to His kingship. Then there is Jesus’ meal with Levi the tax collector, where His welcome of sinners’ at the meal table offends the religious Pharisees. 

And of course, as every Sunday school kid could tell you, there is Zacchaeus’ life-changing encounter with Jesus when He invites Himself to be Zacchaeus’ guest. Sharing a meal with someone always builds intimacy, and Jesus was clearly seeking to do this with all sorts of people. While they ate together, people had opportunities to experience Emmanuel, God with us, in a way they could relate to and understand – after all, what better way to demonstrate God incarnate than to share lunch. 

As people’s physical needs were met and relationships established, the way was opened for them to acknowledge spiritual needs and how they too might be met through Christ. By eating with Jesus, people got more than a conversation with Him, they got more than a message of hope, they got to experience hope Himself, to encounter God in relationship.

It was around food that trust had been built, enabling us to go deeper in our conversations about faith, and for the Holy Spirit to speak.

When I saw this, it was revelatory, and I was astounded I had missed it, given that eating with Christians had been so pivotal to my own faith journey. In 2008, my son was critically ill. It wasn’t the first time and we knew the drill: race him to hospital where he would be given the nebuliser. Except on this occasion the nebuliser failed to work. He was subsequently rushed into resuscitation where I vividly recall holding him as his airways shut down. He was intubated and later transferred to St Thomas’ Hospital in London. My wife and I wept for our son, and on the fourth day, the doctor didn’t have positive news.

Nonetheless, I was hugely strengthened by the prayers of a Christian couple we had recently met. Then, to our utter disbelief, my son suddenly bolted upright in bed, no more than an hour after the challenging conversation we had had with the consultant. It was a miracle. My son was alive! A few weeks later, I would be walking to the front of a church and giving my life to the One who gave His life for me. God had heard those prayers and saved my son, but His own Son He had not saved.

Spending time around the meal table had brought me closer to God Himself, through the work of the Holy Spirit.

But while this miraculous intervention had been a significant step in my journey to faith, it was not the whole story. Something else had been fundamental: eating together. A key thing about the Christian friends who had prayed for my son was that they had regularly invited my family over for a meal. It was around food that trust had been built, enabling us to go deeper in our conversations about faith, and for the Holy Spirit to speak. 

I distinctly recall one particular meal where the conversation focused on the historical
evidence for Jesus Christ, a discussion that couldn’t have happened in a less intimate setting. This may have been less dramatic than the miraculous answer to their prayers, but my
journey would not have been complete without it. I began to realise that spending time around the meal table had brought me closer to God Himself – to Emmanuel – through the work of the Holy Spirit operating in my friends’ lives. 

As we built deep relationship over food, meeting my physical hunger together with them made space to speak into my spiritual need. Unbeknown at the time, the Holy Spirit was
clearly present, revealing Jesus and convicting me of the truth as we ate and talked. For this reason, I am hugely encouraged by the release of a new coffee table book entitled Simply Eat.

Produced by the Evangelical Alliance in partnership with London City Mission, Church of England – Birmingham, Interserve, and All Nations Church Wolverhampton, Simply Eat is a fascinating collection of recipes and stories of Christians eating with others to build
genuine community and share the message of Jesus in natural and loving ways. It makes
perfect sense. Jesus always grabbed opportunities to eat with others and share His life with them, and so should we.

Click here to find out more about Simply Eat and order your copy.

About the author

Manoj began his career as a teacher before turning to writing, including a Bafta award-winning children's TV series My Life as a Popat. In 2003, Manoj turned his hand to business and set up a property company. But ultimately it was the ill health of Manoj’s two-year-old son in 2008 which was to prove the biggest turning point in his life. Christian friends set up a prayer vigil, his son was healed and within days Manoj, a born and raised Hindu, gave his life to serve Jesus. Today, Manoj heads up the South Asian Forum (SAF), which provides a forum for South Asian Christians in the UK to encourage, support and equip each other for mission, and to represent their concerns to government, media and the wider church. Manoj also runs Instant Apostle publishing house.

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