My wife and I wanted to celebrate our birthdays with some kindred spirits this year. Fortunately, one of my wife’s friends recently opened in an eclectic restaurant just a short drive from us, a wonderful little place called Public Steak. I’m not sure the precise moment when the conversation became raucous, but I do know that somewhere during the cocktail, appetizers, main course, wine, dessert, and/or closing sip of scotch with the chef, my friend Hilary said something like, ‘I’m pretty sure the entire restaurant can hear our conversation right now.’ That’s what happens when a dozen friends take over a table and you give them food and drink. The world shrinks. The iPhones are forgotten. New memories are constructed from protein, starch, and vegetable.
Food is central to the human experience. Nothing in this world more easily brings people together, time and time again. Certainly, it’s a wholly different experience for the animal. A python can, after a big meal, refrain from eating for another six months. How lonely and depressing.
What do we do? We instagram our meals. We literally take a picture of our food, post it online, and ask people to comment on it.
On the whole, Americans don’t eat simply because they need more Vitamin D. They cook and eat because the whole food experience is performance art; it is creating, experimenting, savoring, and remembering. We break bread because it has meaning—even if we don’t recognize how the simple act of eating colors the world around us. To share a meal with another person is to invite community. Sure, you can have a coffee with someone as a first date. If things go south quickly, you can exit stage right. But to invite a person to dinner? Well, now you’re committed…after all, you eat with people you love, or at least, have the potential to love.
Some of you are onboard with this from the get-go. You treat your kitchen knives with respect and your garden grows fresh basil. You eat like this:
Others of you can’t pull off toast. You think prosciutto and ham are the same thing, and you have no idea what hors d’oeuvres are (or how to pronounce it). Regardless, even if your taste buds have been seared off by years of microwaved mac-and-cheese, I’m willing to wager that some of your best days involved food and conversation.
Food is all over Scripture. ALL OVER THE PLACE. Genesis starts with a garden, and Revelation ends with the overwhelming abundance of twelve rich crops (Rev 22:2). Read the disturbing concoctions that Ezekiel has to prepare—and how he has to prepare it—in Ezekiel 3-4. Read how the whole of the Exodus story is about a group of people who leave Egypt after eating specific foods (Ex 12), whine about food they never enjoyed when they were still in slavery (Ex 16:3), whining about the food that miraculously materialized in their camps (Ex 16:13), then finally recognizing the Promised Land by its…you guessed it…food (Nu 13:27).
“To break bread with another person is to invite community.“
It goes without saying that food restrictions for the Jewish nation were a big deal; certain delights were a no-no. That is, until Peter has a dream where all sorts of foods descend on him in a massive picnic blanket (Acts 10:9-13). Being the orthodox rule-follower he was, Peter tries to protest: “Surely not! I have never eaten anything impure!” Yet God makes all things new … all things clean. Think of the massive shift that God initiates in this move. Formerly, the Jews were a people to themselves, God’s own, to be a light to the nations and set apart. Now, in the great mystery of his grace, He invites Gentiles to the table. No longer did God-fearers have to concern themselves with strict separatism—even driven by their desire to maintain a sense of dietary purity.
Simply put, food brings us in. It is the currency of ancient treaties and hospitality laws. It transforms Naked and Afraid into Together and Satisfied. Meals are the groundwork for family traditions, celebrations, and ballgame rituals. And, if we are wise, Christians can learn from what they already innately know and parlay that knowledge into building embodied friendships with their neighbors.
How can you foster a neighborhood of bread-breaking? Try simple things, at first. Brownies for the couple that just moved in across the street. Then, when you’re feeling daring, an appetizer potluck at the local playground. Pretty soon, it’ll feel absolutely natural to have your neighbors over for grilled chops and watermelon in the sweaty months of summer. Once you open your home to your neighbor, you have not only solidified the bonds of friendship, you have now provided them a reason to trust you—to reciprocate hospitality themselves. It gives them reason to invest in your children, more reason for them to sit on the front porch, and more reason to hear the witness of God’s generosity through your life.
Of all the gifts God gives his children, one of the most underrated and under-appreciated has to be hospitality. Perhaps it is overlooked because it’s so ridiculously simple. One simply invites another person into their home, offers them food and drink and a place to stay (if necessary). Yet community necessarily follows hospitality, which in turn, breeds more hospitality.
A buddy of mine once said, ‘Nachos heal all wounds.’ Perhaps, if I may be so bold, Jesus knew this (the philosophy of nachos?). He offers up a meal of forgiveness as the centerpiece of his final hours with the disciples; his offers himself up in hospitality and community is, once again, restored by his body and blood. And now, we, the Body of Christ, can boldly witness his name by offering up an open table of rich foods to those around us.
Indeed, the Christian breaks bread as a foretaste of the feast to come.
© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.