With Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas coming up when eating meals together is important, I began to wonder what Jesus said or did to connect food to Christian spiritual life.
Celebrating both religious and family occasions with meals brings us in tune with the Gospels and their many references to food. Someone called it "eating your way with Jesus through Luke's Gospel." Read and reflect on the chapters cited while noticing eating and food.
Jesus compares the beginnings and growth of God's reign to a mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds which becomes such a great tree that birds can nest in it (Matthew 13; Luke 13).
He likens growing and developing faith to yeast which causes the bread to rise (Luke 13) and to salt which is useless when it loses its savour. Jesus tells the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), showing the importance of being receptive to God's word.
Jesus reaches out to all: sinners and saints, the sick and maimed, the needy and rejected, the poor and rich. He knows that eating together is one of the best ways to relate to people; it fosters community and makes sharing easier. So Jesus talks about wedding feasts and banquets (Luke 14 and 15; Matthew 22), including one where street people are brought in and another for the prodigal son.
Jesus becomes guest, host and teacher at meals. He goes to the homes of the rich to share their meals: the tax collector, Levi (Luke 5) who prepares a banquet for Jesus; the chief tax collector, Zaccheus, a sinner (Luke 19) whose home Jesus asks to visit. He eats with Simon the leper (Matthew 6). Jesus responds to those who criticize him that he came for sinners.
Jesus, seen saying grace with his disciples, shared meals with many.
Jesus also shares time and meals with his disciples and friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus (John 12). Attending a wedding at Cana (John 2), he performs his first miracle for food, changing water into wine.
This eating and drinking brings forth the accusation against Jesus and his disciples that they are gluttons instead of fasting as the Pharisees (Luke 7) do. But Jesus tells them fasting is for another time. As well, the Gospels do tell us about Jesus fasting as well as feasting.
When multitudes who have come a long distance to hear him are hungry, the disciples want to tell them to go home to eat. Instead, Jesus multiplies a few loaves and fish and feeds the people (Luke 9, Matthew 9).
In the Last Judgment parable (Matthew 25), Jesus reminds his listeners that heaven is for those who, among other things, feed the hungry. Sharing with those who have less is, therefore, a requirement of Christian life, not an incidental.
Jesus teaches his disciples to ask God for their daily bread in the Lord's Prayer (Luke 11, Matthew 6) telling them of their dependence on God for food (Luke 12). Each fall, we realize how true this is with the abundance of our crops and gardens fed by the sun and the rain God provides. Jesus advises the gardener to cut down the barren fig tree (Luke 13) since it has failed in its task to provide food and is wasting good soil.
In the Synoptics, at the Last Supper Jesus gives us his body and blood in bread and wine, common staple food as he tells us he is the bread of life in John 6. Jesus wants to remain with us as our spiritual nourishment.
When Jesus appears after the resurrection, his disciples only realize he is truly alive after he requests food and eats it with them (Luke 24; John 2). The Emmaus disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24).
Food is one of God's greatest blessings. It gives us sustenance and enables us to accomplish the work God has given us. Our first parents were placed in a garden where food would be abundant and we have been given the soil to till.
Jesus, by his words and actions, shows us the spiritual value of food. He enjoys food, sharing with others and in the process reaching out to them. What greater testimony do we need for the celebration of table companionship and food?
Being grateful for our food and celebrating joyfully with family and friends around a dinner table is truly a spiritual experience, one which we need to cultivate, especially in our busy lives.
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