The Bible and Food, Part 2: You Give Them Something to Eat
Scripture is liberally seasoned with the provision of food and woven with the golden thread of hospitality. How might we practically use ideas about food to follow Jesus?
When Jesus is speaking to friends and followers who already believe in him, he directly preaches the good news of the Kingdom of God. But when he comes across those who are marginalized or on the edges of society, those who have had a bad experience with “religion,” who have been knocked down by life, who can barely summon up the energy to listen, who can’t take one more disappointment, then he sits down with them and eats. And the lonely person finds empathy and kindness at that table and someone who will truly listen to them.
You might wonder how you fit into your world, anxious that you are not the sort of person who has any worth or value. You might doubt if there is anyone out there who would want to be your friend. Jesus is that friend. He has asked you to sit next to him.
He was endlessly criticized for eating and drinking with the wrong sort of people (Matt 9:10). The Pharisees and lawyers called him a glutton and a drunkard. They willfully misunderstood what they saw. Jesus sat down to eat with sinners; he didn’t sit down to sin with sinners. He’s still calling out down the side streets and over by the park benches. And he needs us now to be that friend who invites the lonely or troubled to take a seat at the table.
If you’ve ever walked into the dining room at a Bible School and looked out and seen everyone eating and chatting at crowded tables and have stood worried and paralyzed with your tray, not knowing where you could find a place, then Jesus has a seat next to him for you at his table. Jesus is looking for friends who are like this:
In the lonely world of the 21st century, scared and alarmed by crises, sociologists tell us that the thing people want most is to belong. Jesus tells us that the people on the streets that hustled into his banquet were the poor, the blind, the lame. All the people who didn’t belong, with no access to the Temple, never invited to sit at the table, stepped around by people hurrying by. They are now sharing a meal with Jesus. What about these challenging words? “It seems to me that if we eat the body and blood of Christ in expensive churches without care for the hungry, the sacrament is no longer a foretaste of the feast to come but a trivialized picnic to which not everyone is invited.”1
RISE TO THE CHALLENGE
Food is one good way to connect with people of other cultures and other faiths.
Our world is questioning its response to injustice and inequality. You might be making conscious decisions to be better aware of what is happening and wondering how to offer the hope of the gospel message in a meaningful way. A missionary who lived for many years in India had this to say about making a difference in our inequitable world, “The living God is a God of justice and mercy, and He will be satisfied with nothing less than a people in whom His justice and mercy are alive.”²
Food is one good way to connect with people of other cultures and other faiths. If a friend says they care about social justice, you could quietly show that the God you serve has mandated that people have enough to eat, that workers are treated fairly, that animals are raised humanely and that crops are grown environmentally responsibly. His laws cleared generational debt every 50th year when land was returned to its rightful owners, and no farming was done, the fields left fallow.
You could show them how God from the beginning told man to look after the earth and treat his neighbor with dignity. That laws laid out in Deuteronomy tell us to open our hand to the poor, to leave the fruit trees to flourish and a border in the field for those who need it. This generous way of living meant that King David could say that he had never seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.
But how could you or I say that? We see hunger all around us. David lived in a God-oriented dispensation. We live in a godless world of greed and misuse of resources. But how many times have you or I been moved by what we’ve seen or read and yet done nothing about it? How can we respond? Psalm 37:26 tells us this: the Lord God is ever generous. We can copy that. Ever generous.
We are incapable, as Jesus himself tells us, of helping or feeding every poor person in the world. But that is not a get-out clause to do nothing. In Matthew’s gospel (26:11), he picks up Deuteronomy 15 and tells us that people with needs are always going to be here. While the laws of a just God do not prevail in our world, we have an opportunity to act to help.
The prophet Amos was a shepherd and a gardener, looking after the sycamore fig trees, and he calls out Israel for amassing their wealth while oppressing the poor and crushing the needy. This sin, he says in chapter 8, will spell the end of them as a nation, heading to a day of darkness and exile from God when only a tiny remnant will remain to be restored.
Israel had trampled the head of the poor into the dust of the earth. They’d sold the righteous for silver and the needy for a new pair of shoes, and God was sickened with their unjust ways. I look in my closet and see a lot of fancy shoes, but I persuade myself that’s probably not what God is talking about.
We know from the Gospels that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor. They will be blessed and the rich disappointed. So perhaps, like David, we see what we see with our own eyes, in our own street, in our own neighborhood, in our own city, and we can learn to be generous givers—not qualified at all by our financial starting point or our natural inclinations, but by a change of our character to be like our Lord.
Asking someone to eat with us doesn’t require fine china, lots of money, wine glasses or a vase of Pinterest flowers. We are not aiming for “Instagramable.” Hospitality requires our time and effort, our prayers and patience, our thoughtfulness and generosity. And sometimes these are more challenging things to find than the wine glasses and the flowers.
God knows that serving someone food on a plate is something everyone can pick up on and put into action. You might be struggling to find applications today for some other traditions, but you can be sure you are on solid ground when you help people to eat “[Jesus] did not come as the celebrity messiah everyone was expecting… [but] as the suffering servant the baby refugee, the homeless rabbi…. Jesus did not simply come to help the poor; he came as the poor.”3
you can be sure you are on solid ground when you help people to eat
Get involved in helping people to eat in the larger world arena through organizations like Christadelphian Meal-a-Day, who run food, water and education projects. Or through The Garden Outreach Initiatives, linking up with others to help with supporting the homeless. Consider volunteering at a street kitchen or a homeless shelter in your ecclesial neighborhood.
You can make a meal and do something direct and basic and real to address this challenge in your own small sphere— like the Lord Jesus did, with love and kindness, one meal at a time. “A shared meal is the activity most closely tied to the reality of God’s Kingdom, just as it is the most basic expression of hospitality.”4
More than 54 million Americans, including 17 million children, are currently relying on help to put food on the table. We need to make sure that we are generous to the best of our ability—“Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over,” (Luke 6:38 ESV).
God calls us to share our bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into our houses, and if we do that, He promises that He will guide us continually, He will answer our cries, and that our darkness and gloom will be instead like shining light and the brightness of high noon (Isa 58:7-8).
There are some practicalities and obstacles to deal with. Maybe you are a student in a dorm, and your college roommate hates religion, and there’s no way you could invite a friend over to eat and to talk about God. Maybe you are in a family with little sympathy for your beliefs, and you just can’t invite people home. Maybe you live alone and would feel frightened about inviting a stranger. Maybe you’re struggling to stretch your budget to feed your own family. Maybe, because of COVID-19, you can’t imagine having anyone round for dinner ever again.
Take heart, “If the righteousness of God is present, there is always enough to go around.”5 If your home is not a safe space to talk about God and Jesus, go out. When money is tight, make cheese sandwiches to take to the park. Sit socially distanced at a sticky plastic topped café table and talk about things that matter. Jesus sorts out fish and bread, not lobster and meringues.
Hospitality doesn’t need a return invitation
And he says not to mistake hospitality for entertainment. This isn’t a photo op for your social media pages. Hospitality doesn’t need a return invitation. It is quietly done with the desire to share the gospel message at its heart. If you can’t cook, then spend less time looking at cute cat videos and master some simple recipes.
Jesus gives us the courage to act. When the disciples see a crowd as a logistical mealtime nightmare, Jesus sees lost souls waiting to be fed. Start everything with prayer. Tell your ecclesia you’d like to invite someone over to listen to their story and share a little of your faith. If you’d be in over your head answering questions or if the problem you’re hearing from a friend is overwhelming, still don’t worry. Talk to a family in your meeting, and ask if they would open their home for you.
Trying to think ahead and plan meals might sound contrived. Shouldn’t our witness just be spontaneous and spur of the moment? It is what our life should look like, always swinging into action with faith and food and testimony. But truly, is that your life? I know it isn’t mine. If I want something to happen, I generally need to do some work. And Luke in the Book of Acts reassures us that this is no bad thing. In the wildfire enthusiasm for preaching after Jesus’ resurrection, practical matters got a little lost. We nod in sage agreement with Acts 6:2 ESV,
Seeing as lackluster the work in question, the distribution to the Greek widows, making sure fatherless families got fed. But look at how seriously God takes it. The man appointed to coordinate is totally exceptional—one of the most spiritual, dynamic, educated, Christ-like characters we have the good fortune to model ourselves on.
A young man in his late 20s, the early Christian martyr Stephen, the narrative says, is full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He will later give one of the most compelling testimonies ever recorded (Acts 7). His assignment isn’t some side-line task. It is to work hand-in-hand with the preaching of the gospel. Making sure everyone had enough to eat was overseen by seven incredible people. The verse that follows their inauguration says that “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.” (Acts 6:7).
When preaching and pastoral care are intertwined, we know God will bless the work.
Next Issue: The Breaking of Bread Meal
1 Power, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God, Marva Dawn, 2001
2 The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Lesslie Newbigin, 1989
3 Follow me to Freedom, Clairborne and Perkins, 2009
4 Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl, 1999 5 Breaking Generational Poverty, (Meeks), Robert L Graves, 2017