Eating Bread in the Kingdom of God

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE is considered one of the three “synoptic Gospels,” along with Matthew and Mark. They cover much the same ground, in contrast to John’s Gospel which reports actions and teachings not found elsewhere.

There are, however, two important segments in Luke which are not found in the other Gospels. The first is the so-called “Travel Narrative”) (Luke 9:51 to 19:44), Luke depicts the Lord Jesus as resolving to go to Jerusalem, then making that journey which would led to His death and resurrection. In Luke, several passages found elsewhere in Matthew and Mark, are grouped together in Luke, in the context of this journey.

Luke begins this section of the Gospel with these words:” “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He resolved to do what it takes – facing the Jerusalem authorities who would put Him to death – in order for Him to be “received up.” As St Cyril of Alexandria wrote, “This means that, after He would endure His saving passion for us, the time would come when He should ascend to heaven and dwell with God the Father (Commentary on Luke, Homily 56). Jerusalem was but a stopover on Jesus’ journey to the Father.

This journey has another parallel in the Scriptures. Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt an often-rebellious people into the wilderness at the edge of the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 9 ff. shows their journey continue to the place which God had prepared for them; but they would only enter it after the death of Moses.

Deuteronomy 12-18 (God’s instructions to Moses) climaxes with this messianic prophecy from the mouth of Moses “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear” (Deuteronomy 18:15). In his “Travel Narrative,” Luke depicts Jesus as the Prophet like Moses, whose journey leads His followers to salvation in the eternal promised land, the Kingdom of God, which they would enter after the death – and resurrection – of the Lord Jesus.

The Messianic Banquet

A number of times in Luke’s Gospel the Lord Jesus is depicted as communicating His teachings in the context of a meal:

After the Call of Levi/Matthew:Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’” (Luke 5:29-32).

The Scribes and Pharisees saw themselves as “righteous” and thus entitled to eat with Jesus. But the Lord’s Table is not a reward for the “righteous,” but a healing balm for repentant sinners!

Feeding the Five Thousand: At Levi’s house, Jesus was a guest; here (Luke 9:10-17) He is the host, providing bread in a way reminiscent of the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness. Luke’s description also points ahead to the Eucharist: “…looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude” (Luke 9:15). When the Lord feeds us, all are satisfied and then some!

Hospitality at the home of Mary and  Martha: Luke tells us that, during His preaching ministry, the Lord stopped in a certain village and was invited to the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha (Luke 10-38-42). Martha complains when she is left to do all the serving by herself. The “main course” consists, not in the dishes she has prepared, however, but in the Lord Himself, “the one thing needed” (v.42).

Parable of the Great Supper: At a Sabbath meal in the house of a leading Pharisee, the Lord Jesus criticized the practice of entertaining oneself and ones friends in the guise of a religious celebration. Social norms tell us to celebrate these festivals as occasions for celebrating social prominence. In contrast, Jesus teaches that these occasions should be an occasion for celebrating God’s love for all. “But when you give a feast,” He said, “invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” He then described the history of salvation in terms of a banquet to which many are invited (Luke 14:15-24). They all make excuses so the host (the Father) sends a servant (whom St Cyril of Alexandria identified as Christ) to summon “the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind” to take their place (v. 21). The host first honors his commitment to “the invited” (the Jewish elite) but when they decline, he reaches out to the common people and then to the Gentiles.

Institution of Eucharist: Luke offers the longest description of the Last Supper in the New Testament (Luke 22: 14-38). Jesus begins by foretelling His imminent passion and death, which will open the gates to the kingdom of God.: “…for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God [and] I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (vv.16 and 18).

Jesus then gives a new meaning to the Jewish ritual meal. His meal was no longer a memorial of Old Testament events. Instead, He enjoins His disciples to repeat this ritual as a remembrance of Christ Himself: particularly His death, resurrection and second coming which will inaugurate the kingdom. In addition, He proclaims the elements of the ritual meal, the bread and wine, to be His body and blood and declares that partaking of them was to be a sign of the kingdom where the Lord’s disciples would “eat and drink at My table” (v.30). The Covenant with Moses is now replaced: the veil of the temple is “torn in two” (Luke 23:45) and the New Covenant takes effect.

The Meal at Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35): Luke’s series of sacred meals climaxes, not in the upper room but in the inn at Emmaus where the risen Christ makes Himself known to the disciples “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). Mentioned but briefly in Mark 16:12 and 13, this resurrection appearance is cast here in a form which Luke’s audience – a Church in Asia Minor, perhaps Antioch itself – would recognize as their own.

It begins with an “entrance procession” as the disciples, joined by the risen Christ, walk to Emmaus. After Jesus greets them, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).

After hearing the Scriptures, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight” (Luke 24: 30, 31). Returning to the company of believers in Jerusalem, “they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (v. 35).

Luke concludes his series of sacred meals by presenting the Emmaus appearance in the form of a Eucharistic Liturgy – the place where his initial audience – and readers ever since – have heard the Scriptures expounded to them and recognized their risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.