The Spiritual Roots of the Modern Food Movement
Jesus understood the power of sharing a good a meal.
What would the Gospel of Jesus be like if we could only experience it through food? Think about it. We experience Jesus’ message through TV, film, music, dance, various forms of art and so many other elements of culture, so why not food?
And I don’t mean feeding the hungry—although this is an intrinsic tenet of the Gospel. I mean the simple act of eating. Could it be possible to somehow experience God through our taste buds?
Don’t get me wrong. This is not about deeply spiritualizing a simple meal. Rather, it’s about finding the spiritual in the simple.
We all have that friend who knows all about the newest restaurants in town or those hidden gems in our city—or even better, the friend who has all the hook-ups for the best home-cooked meals. I personally prefer eating at friends’ houses or family-owned, hole-in-the wall places. The best meals I’ve ever had were made with love—or at least that’s what they tasted like. And that matters.
It wasn’t until I moved a couple of thousand miles away from home that I started realizing how much love I experienced while eating. Of course I wasn’t cooking most of the time (to my mother’s dismay). I was either being hosted by a family from my new community or sharing a meal with new friends at a local cafe or restaurant. During these many meals we talked about family, faith, politics, culture and we also shared intimate thoughts and feelings. Nothing was off the table—unless it was so gross that it might ruin the meal.
One day I realized that when we were eating, our guards are down. It was my curiosity to learn about a new culture or a new friend that led me to try some strange foods in unexpected places. With time, it was no longer about me, it was about the safe place that meeting at the table provided for people from different cultural and religious backgrounds.
Dinner with Jesus
One of the main associations we make between Jesus and food (besides the holy communion) is the feeding of the multitudes. Time after time we have heard sermons about these passages in the context of challenging our faith to believe in God’s provision, but very seldom do we read into the fundamental motivation of these miracles–compassion.
In each of the occasions when Jesus fed the multitudes–the four thousand and the five thousand–the Bible mentions that Jesus had compassion (not hunger) as the motivation to feed them.
Then we take a closer look at other stories involving Jesus and food or drink, we notice that He meets people in their cultural context—their comfort zone.
Jesus has dinner with Levi, the tax collector, and other sinners. Levi throws a huge party for Jesus at his house and invites a bunch of other tax collectors. Jesus has fellowship with these “sinners” in their place of comfort; He joins them at their table. But that’s not the only controversial meal Jesus had. Jesus goes to the Pharisee’s house and joins him at his table—again, in the Pharisee’s comfort zone and territory.
It is in this place and context that a sinful woman who is seeking forgiveness for her sins joins them. What if Jesus had refused that meal? What if He had considered such act of sharing a meal with that specific Pharisee too mundane for His divine calling?
There’s another place where Jesus and food came together: the marriage in Cana. Jesus performs His first recorded miraculous sign at a party—turning water into wine at a wedding.
Although each of these stories lends itself for wonderful exegesis and homiletics, all of them show Jesus literally and contextually joining sinners at their table for a meal. Each moment Jesus had a meal with someone was very intimate. Each of those moments involved sharing, ministering and storytelling. Those were moments of communion.
Now think of the times you have enjoyed a good (or bad) meal or drink with anybody—family, friend or acquaintance. Think of the reasons or occasions to share a meal: They are usually celebratory, intimate or purposed to accomplish something in specific. You may have lunch or dinner with someone to catch-up, to get to know the person better or to talk business. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, you don’t invest time and effort into sitting at the table and sharing a meal with your enemies.
Every time we sit at someone’s table, we have an opportunity to partake in that person’s cultural and personal beauty and richness. We get to choose to get past our prejudice, put our guard down and see life through their eyes.
A simple meal with someone can become an intentional exploration of a culture beyond politics, religion and what the evening newscasts choose to feed us. It’s an opportunity to see people through a more personal lens–meeting them in their context and territory, seeing the world through their eyes. It’s an opportunity to join them at their physical and metaphorical table and see the beauty and diversity of God’s creation through culture. It is our opportunity to learn that we can witness the love and compassion of God the way Jesus did–through fellowship.
We don’t have to label something “Christian” in order for it to have the power to reveal God. He has a way of revealing Himself to us through others.
Renown chef and TV host Andrew Zimmern says that “In an age like ours, it’s important to know what our neighbors are thinking and eating, and to propagate conversations that celebrate what we have in common, to better solve the problems that we all face.” As idealistic as it may sound, Zimmern has a point in saying that we may be able to solve our problems by pretty much sitting at the table with our neighbors.
Seeing According to His Perspective
It would be fairly accurate to say that a lot of people on this planet have the best intentions to transform the world into a better place. For that reason we are constantly attempting to persuade others to see the world from our perspective. The problem is, very seldom do we ask ourselves if our perspective is even right. We yearn to see people, cities and nations transformed, but we skip the transformation and renewal of our minds. When we allow our minds to be constantly renewed by God, then we are able to see according to His perspective.
Can we see God and even preach the Gospel through food? Yes! We see God in the diversity and creativity of a meal. There is a heart-wrenching history as well as sweet and hopeful stories behind some meals. The meal itself is a story to be shared—how is it made and why? The choice of ingredients, how the recipe has been passed down and modified (or not), the feelings and memories it evokes.
It’s a gentle dance between our heart, our mind and our taste buds. In that dance we learn about the values and struggles we have in common with people from different religious, cultural and political systems. We wake up to that subtle, yet harsh reality that Jesus sees and loves us all the same.
We don’t need to stand on a soapbox to make people listen to our message. We can make our message be heard loud and clear by simply being still, and letting God reveal more of His beauty to us through others while we share a meal. This doesn’t mean we must now go and have random meals with random people (although we might as well seize the opportunity and embrace adventure). This means that like C.S. Lewis, we can also smuggle theology in our art and allow ourselves to be transformed by it.
We must remember that every encounter with the unknown, the unfamiliar and the bizarre is an opportunity to get to know God better.