I am, without a doubt, ridiculously and overwhelmingly serious about my food.
I enjoy discovering new places to eat. I enjoy preparing a meal. I even look forward to the annual tryptophan-filled Thanksgiving feast. Simply put, I love good food. Thus, when I started reflecting on our theme of living full, I almost immediately think of food! One day, I might write on exercising, but it might be a while.
In March, I traveled home to Seattle for a much needed vacation. In preparation for my three-week trip, I made three lists: a packing list, the people I needed to see, and the restaurants I needed to patronize. My foodie "hit list" was made up of all of my favorite places to eat in the Greater Seattle area. I was a woman on a mission.
The Bible tells a number of stories involving food. Feasts and meals are scattered all over the old and new testaments, poignantly accenting meaningful human encounters. A good part of Jesus' ministry either involved creating meals or was set during a meal. One of my favorite moments involved Jesus looking up at a ridiculous looking man perched on a branch of a sycamore tree. To the people of the city, the tree climber was a disgrace. Worse, he was a thief and a traitor. He was a Roman lapdog. People refused to associate with him, let alone share a meal with him. It is probably safe to assume that he was used to lonely meals for one. (Ancient Israel's version of a microwave dinner.) Jesus, a respected teacher, miracle-maker, and traveling speaker, stood under the tree and declared that he was coming to dine at Zaccheus' house.
At that time, dining with someone communicated relationship. Not entirely different from today's high school cafeteria laws, the people you eat with determine your social status. Jesus was making a gasp-inducing statement that clearly identified himself with Zacchus' unsavory status. To the first century Jews, Jesus was committing social suicide. I see this as something beautiful. Jesus dined with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. His message of grace was communicated clearly even through his meals.
When I was growing up, my family did not eat meals together. Sometimes we would eat together, but most of the times those meals were either hurried or set in front of the television set. We were not unlike the Wormwoods from Roald Dahl's Matilda. We were just very busy and there was not enough space and not enough time. We had very busy, very different schedules. I took it as the norm until I went to college. In my first year of college, I was blessed with brother and sister floor friends who always ate together. We would all come into the dining hall together for dinner around 5 PM and wouldn't leave until the workers kicked us out. The food wasn't all that appealing, but the conversations were priceless. This was the first time I really had regular family dinners. I was part of a family. We shared our lives with each other over limitless chocolate milk.
Fast forward a few years from Jesus' encounter with Zaccheus. Peter had just delivered a powerful message at the day of Pentecost. The number of Jesus followers was overwhelming. This new spirit-birthed community was the church. They didn't have pews or stages. They didn't have electric guitars and theatre-style seating. They didn't have full-color bulletins or stained glass windows. They didn't have the little taste-less crackers and cute little juice cups.
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47, ESV)
A mismatched group gathered together at a merchant's home. Sitting around the table was the Greek merchant, next to him his slave. Next to the slave, the wife of a Roman official. Next to her, a Jewish fisherman. The people reclining around the table came from very different backgrounds; they had very different stories. Yet, they came together as one church, telling one story, eating one meal. One family.
Sharing meals with people is more about the people than it is about the food.
Sharing a meal with someone opens a door for us to share a funny story, our life stories, our lives. Somehow, when we eat with people, we let our guard down. We are much more open, and sometimes even gloriously vulnerable with each other when we share meals with them. Conversations about the messy yet delicious happenings in life can appropriately match messy yet delicious tacos de carnitas. Sharing meals with people becomes opportunities for us not just to extend hospitality, but to extend grace. The gesture calls people family and embraces differences. The gesture celebrates stories and life and hope. As Christians, sharing a meal with fellow believers is how we truly celebrate the Lord's sacrifice. It is the way we remember our story, Jesus' story.
Back to my grand food adventure story. As soon as I arrived in Seattle, I found myself in a huge game of matching between the list of people and the list of restaurants. Almost miraculously, I ended up completing both of those lists. While I celebrated my accomplishments, I had something resembling an epiphany.
As much as I love food, it occurred to me that what I love about it has to do with much more than my taste buds and my appetite. The stories heard, the laughter shared, the cultures explored bring richness to life. The food itself might be perishable, but the relationships forged over good meals are imperishable.