This post was originally published in the most recent issue of Humanity Magazine (which is edited by my talented friend Kailey Sullivan). Her magazine is a quarterly publication which focuses on a different theme with each publication. This one was on food.
Maybe you’ve noticed it too.
Once I began to notice the amount of intense importance given to food throughout the Bible, I realized that it’s everywhere. In fact, you could even say that much of the Bible revolves around food.
Any elementary Sunday Schooler will be able to tell you what the first sin ever was: Eating. The wrong thing at the wrong time from the wrong tree. Eating is what led to 9/11, Columbine, and more recently, Charlotesville. Eating introduced the human race to the sin which permeates every platelet in our bloodstream.
But it doesn’t end there.
In the agrarian culture in which the ancient Israelites lived, eating was a central tenet of life. Therefore, many of Moses’ laws revolved around what to eat, what not to eat, when, how, where and why to eat. Don’t eat bacon, but do eat unleavened bread during Passover. Eat this bull in the presence of a priest, but don’t eat clams.
A friend pointed out that the Bible is divine comedy: Eating is what doomed mankind to death, but it’s also the means by which we are saved. First the serpent invited Eve to ‘come and eat,’ then it is the phrase Jesus extended to the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors, and now to us.
Come and eat…me.
Do this in remembrance of me.
Eat and remember me.
And if you’re at all familiar with Christian eschatology, you also know how the Bible ends: With a feast.
I think God loves to eat.
It’s not an accident food is so wonderful, especially when eaten with family and friends in community and fellowship. But I want to zoom in on the first century culture into which Jesus entered and began shuffling things around.
An early church historian wrote that Jews did not take food from the same table as Gentiles (Non-Jews) “because they live impurely.” There were all-male tables; tables for rich people and others for the poor, and so on.
Because in the first century, who you ate with mattered.
It was unlike our culture today in which one may waltz into a Chipotle and grab an open window seat one stool away from a stranger. In the first century, when it came to eating, everything was planned out and executed intentionally. In other words, no Jewish man—especially a rabbi—would grab a table at McHerod’s and risk sitting near a Gentile for supper.
So when Jesus shows up, it’s absolutely jarring for Him to constantly be seen at the table with ‘sinners.’ The cool thing is, this isn’t just an isolated event that He did once to make a statement. We get the impression that Jesus made a habit of chilling with the societal outcasts. He likely even called many of them His friends.
Let’s break down the three categories of people typically listed as eating with Jesus:
Sinners: Not much description of these people. Just imagine that you were part of a group of friends and the best way people thought to describe you was just as ‘sinners.’ Obviously not the top of their classes or the social elite. Just a group of no-good lowlives.
Prostitutes: Oh, you know…
Tax collectors: This group is interesting. These people were possibly the most hated group of people in the Jewish community at the time. They were Jewish men who worked for the Roman government collecting taxes from other Jews. However, they usually took extra cash just to fill their pockets and get rich from their own people. Think World War 2 Jews collecting taxes from fellow Jews, working for the Nazis and also getting rich.
And these are the very people Jesus chose to dine with.
Even more fascinating, we don’t get the impression that Jesus was an eyebrow-raising-chaperone or ‘missionary’ type as He hung out with these people. Luke 7 implies that Jesus was often mistaken for a drunk and a glutton: He ate a lot and drank a lot. He wasn’t a bore to be around.
Often the mental image we have of Jesus is a very tidy, clean and frankly, boring man who came and implored us all to be better people. The image painted by the Bible could not be more different. After all, there must have been a reason these notorious sinners kept coming back to eat with Jesus. (Hint: It wasn’t because he just called them hoodlums and told them to shape up…who would want to keep eating with someone like that?)
He didn’t wait for them to improve their lives or crawl out of their addictions before he sat and broke bread with them; Jesus moved into their space, where they were, and demonstrated to the world that they had value. That they were worth eating with.
So I ask myself: When was the last time I sat with a prostitute or inmate and ate a meal? When was the last time I exited my comfort zone to show someone I care about them, despite what society says? In high school, it was the lonely nerds isolated in the cafeteria. Who is it for you now?
Perhaps you’re the one who feels like the outcast. Maybe you’re the one who feels too dirty, unclean, and sinful to be wanted by the Lord. Let this be a reminder that especially to those of us who feel disgusting in the eyes of God that Jesus looks at each of us and says, “Come, eat with me.”
He was willing to sacrifice His reputation in the eyes of the religious leaders to show love to the lowest of society. And He does the same to each of us.
I love the nickname often given to God: The Hound of Heaven. Because like a dog on the prowl, He is seeking out and chasing after the lowest, the farthest, and most overlooked members of the world. He is chasing after us with a bloodthirst the way a pup chases a fallen goose.
The most shocking turn of events though, is the table to which we are invited. We are not invited to eat wheat bread and grape juice, but the very body and blood of God Himself.
This is my body, broken for you; my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins…
We do this symbolically in church today, as we anticipate the coming feast to end all feasts.
And we’re all invited.
This invitation is not limited to those who follow a certain code or restrain from partying too hard. This invitation is for the sinners, the broken down and the unworthy, and it extends even to people like us, the addicts, the perfectionists and workaholics.
You may not have grown up in a family that sits down for evening dinner, and the feeling of invitation and nearness may be foreign to you. Fortunately, the family of God is enormous and welcoming. The food won’t leave you wanting, nor will the drink leave you thirsty.
So will you come to the table? Will you come and feast on the Lord as He offers Himself to us? Will you sit shoulder to shoulder with the Least of These as we center ourselves around the table of the Lord?
Come and eat.