Jesus and Food – Introduction

Jesus and Food – Introduction

Jesus and Food – Introduction.

Of the three life essentials needed to survive, food is my favorite. Well, after clothing. There’s no doubt that the Co-Creator of this tasty world has a thing about food, too. Jesus’ first miracle, after all, was at a wedding feast where he refused to be a party pooper. He was indeed the Lord of the Feast. Many of his stories involved big meals, to the point of describing the kingdom of heaven as one big feast, fit for a King. Food was a constant theme in Christ’s earthly life and teaching:

1. Sharing a meal seemed to him a meaningful way to describe the mysteries of his indwelling, during which he enters a person’s spirit-house and enjoys a 4-star dinner;

2. During his short ministry in the flesh, he was known around town as a glutton who ate with outcasts, perhaps a case of guilt by association, or maybe he earned that handle;

3. He established himself as the hidden manna come down from heaven through the Eucharist, the Communion Table, in which we are asked to eat his flesh, drink his blood;

4. He cooked a barbecue breakfast of fish on the beach for his disciples soon after the Resurrection, a tangible act of humble and practical service after their hard night’s work;

5. He revealed his true identity to the discouraged duo in Emmaus while sharing a loaf of bread at the dinner table;

6. At least twice he provided more than enough food for thousands of people in the middle of nowhere, from mere table scraps and a kids-meal;

7. He even invited himself over for lunch after meeting Jericho’s scummiest citizen. Jesus would eat with anybody, much to Zaccheus’ delight.

8. And we still have only briefly mentioned the Supper of the Lamb awaiting all believers in New Jerusalem’s heavenly dining hall. Jesus, the master of ceremonies at the biggest party-feast in the history of the world, and somehow that isn’t surprising.

9. He was the fulfillment of the most important meal in the Hebrew Bible, the Passover feast, and He can still be celebrated to this day with the Seder at the family table;

10. Jesus had a mysterious source of intangible food that kept Him going, the nourishment that came to Him when He obeyed the Father, when He accomplished the Father’s will.

Let’s see now… Jesus created food, prepared food, ate food, talked about food, told imaginative stories about food, told us to expect food, and finally, he became food. This makes sense when we consider that Jesus was involved with everything basic to human existence. He drank, he ate, he slept, he cried, he laughed, he worked, he obeyed, he bled, he felt pain, and he died. His life was in most ways like your life and my life, including his dependence upon and appreciation of food.

What can we learn from this? How can we appreciate food as much as, and in the same spirit as Jesus did? He no doubt thought that the table was an important piece of furniture in the house, and in order to follow him, we need to consider why this is so. Let’s briefly consider the functions of food, and why the table is not just another hunk of wood:

A. Nourishment. This is simple enough. God created us to need and to enjoy food, complete with the delicate senses of smell, taste, touch, and sight with which to appreciate the food he created. If we don’t enjoy food, we risk going against his will.

B. Celebration. Life would be truly a tedious bore were it not for special occasions. And how have people celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, cultural milestones, historic events, and personal triumphs down through the ages? That’s right, with food and festivity. Just try to celebrate something important without food. Go ahead. Try.

C. Education. How did Yahweh choose to teach the Faith to the children in the Jewish homes? That’s right, kids were taught through all types and styles of rituals and foodstuffs centered on the table. Study the cycle of Feast Days in the Jewish religious year, and you’ll see that, in order for the Faith to be handed down to succeeding generations, the table was in constant use. The multi-sensory experience of food was, and continues to be, God’s preferred method to teach the basics of the Faith. Christian parents have too often neglected this time-tested way of raising their kids in the Lord. Perhaps it’s time to return to the wisdom of our Jewish roots.

D. Artistry. Meal preparation is a time-honored art form. Something uniquely transcendent happens when all the created senses experience nature’s beauty and grace through the wide variety of shapes, flavors, textures, aromas, and colors of food. A great chef knows this, and takes as much pride in a quality meal as Picasso did in his paintings. The dining table is a culinary museum for the exquisite human pleasure of eating, with the kitchen serving as the artist’s studio.

E. Community. A consistent sign of unity between humans through the ages has been the meal eaten in common. Sharing and enjoying food with others reflects togetherness like nothing else on the market, and is truly an opportunity to initiate and deepen friendships. The house churches in the early years of Christianity punctuated their time together with the Love Fest. Meals shared are lives shared. Sacred is the table.

F. Civilized Behavior. Animals feed, but humans feast. As Leon Kass says in his book The Hungry Soul: “Through eating with others we grow more civil; family table becomes a school for life; incivility, insensitivity and ingratitude learned at the family table can infect all other aspects of one’s life. Conversely, good habits and thoughtful attitudes regarding food and eating will have far-reaching benefits. Self-restraint and self-command, consideration of others, politeness, fairness, generosity, tact, discernment, good taste, and the art of friendly conversation – all learnable and practiced at the table – enrich and ennoble all of human life.”

G. Servanthood. Hospitality is a classic virtue, and is offered best at the table of one’s home. Abraham and Sarah entertained angels unawares through food, and I dare say we do too. Those people who care enough to serve food to strangers and friends love their neighbors in a uniquely tangible and satisfying way, and simply do what Jesus himself did countless times. I think there is a special place in heaven for those who choose to joyfully serve others through the ministry of the table.

Perhaps the following prayer of Robert F. Capon, excerpted from his cookbook meditation Supper of the Lamb, will provide our dessert after all this food for thought:

“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men and women – to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve thee as thou hast blessed us – with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.”