In The Hunger for Home: Food and Meals in the Gospel of Luke, as the title suggests, Matthew Croasmun and Miroslav Volf primarily focus on exploring the significance of meals throughout the Gospel of Luke, yet they venture much further than examining the mere physicality of these events. The authors spend time probing the many examples recorded throughout the Gospel, including the feeding of the 5,000, the meal hosted by Levi, and the breaking of bread at Emmaus, drawing from each to demonstrate their greater significance. They argue rather explicitly that within the Gospel of Luke—and the New Testament in general—that meals are not relegated to social festivities or gatherings of practicality alone. Each meeting at the table, rather, symbolizes an ethos of connectedness, community, and hospitality. They also symbolize the at-homeness and present reality of the kingdom of God, with a keen emphasis on inclusivity, a principle Jesus enacts at each of his meals. The authors’ primary thesis is this: God is calling each person to their true home—of which God is the host—and each meal that we partake in serves as a sacrament of this reality.
Croasmun and Volf succeed in creating a clear flow of thought throughout the book, leaving little room for the reader to lose track of what is being discussed. They wittily utilize a chiastic structure in regard to chapter arrangement, with the first and last centering around the theme of bread (and the nature of meals more generally), the second and fifth focusing on the location of the meal, and the third and fourth centering on those gathered at the table. Their thesis and main arguments are made evident, and to the reader’s pleasure, this is accomplished without redundancy.
Though modest in length, Croasmun and Volf’s book accomplishes precisely what it sets out to do—to provide a robust understanding of meals throughout Luke’s Gospel. They provide key historical and cultural context that the reader may not be privy to otherwise (e.g., providing background for many of the characters, describing key 1st-century Jewish insights, etc.), especially for those possessing a cursory understanding of the New Testament. However, these contextual revelations will likely be less groundbreaking for more seasoned navigators of the text. As the book narrowly breaks 100 pages, it should not be perceived as an exhaustive investigation of the subject, and most will quickly deduce that this was never its intent. Rather, it acts to concisely establish a handful of theological positions, as well as deliver a clear thesis in relation to meals. The succinctness of the work arguably serves as one of its major strengths, especially since the book will appeal to a lay audience.
Whether directly intended or not, Croasmun and Volf’s writing serves as a vital denunciation of the gnostic current that has arguably swept up a large portion of Western Christian thought. In a time when meals are often viewed as little more than moments to hurry through, their main premise challenges this posture. The reader is provoked to view meals not as disembodied hurdles in one’s schedule, but instead as moments to experience the immanent presence of the One who has called them to the table. It is difficult to contend with their sacred role when one realizes that meals are an opportunity in which “. . . we can come to be at home together, to belong to one another, lured by the one who invites us to be at home with him” (47).
This book holds particular value for those operating within practical settings, such as small groups and spiritual formation classes, but it is also of interest to individuals looking to deepen their understanding of the subject. It serves as an effective point of discussion, made particularly digestible due to its brevity and clarity. Additionally, students who are seeking to write on topics of community, hospitality, embodiment, and, most straightforwardly, meals would be wise to utilize this resource in their research.
Jacob L. Bishop is an independent scholar.
Jacob L. Bishop
Date Of Review:
July 28, 2023
Matthew Croasmun is Associate Research Scholar and Director of the Life Worth Living Program at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture.
Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School and the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture.
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