Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

June 30, 2011

More than a Mouthful: Part 3

Gathering to Eat

Nathan Harter
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Most depictions of mealtime in the Gospels are communal: people assemble to eat together. This is not a radical idea, of course, but it bears noting in a culture such as ours that often encourages solitary dining. Families and friends gathered.

For this reason, a lot of interesting social dynamics took place at mealtime. Jesus used mealtime to teach important lessons about how we are to live together, beginning with the emphasis on service. Meals are opportunities to serve others. Jesus himself served by providing the food or wine, roasting the fish, washing feet, presiding over the rituals, and even promising to host his disciples in the hereafter. Before he left, he said, ÒI go to prepare a place for you.Ó

How this emphasis on service can be reconciled with his rebuke of Martha, who was buzzing around trying to prepare a meal, seems to depend on the contrast between her annoyance at Mary for not helping her and MaryÕs making the words of Jesus a priority. One could argue Jesus expected Martha to carry on alone, without complaint.

In any case, another important feature of the social dimension of dining was the fixation on honor. Apparently, it was an honor to be invited and an insult to decline an invitation. By way of contrast, however, it was supposedly dishonorable for Jesus to accept an invitation to a tax collectorÕs feast. That was different. Yet Jesus took no umbrage and even seemed to enjoy the company of sinners.

Jesus even taught his disciples not to claim the seat of honor, but to serve. When two of his closest disciples were discussing which of them was the greater, so that they could figure out their respective rank, Jesus punctured their expectations, as if to say their concern for honor was misplaced.

At this, I would like to point out an interesting pattern. We first see Jesus dining at a wedding reception, and apparently at this point he was a relative nobody, off in a corner. Gradually, he became known and got invited to dinner and the like. As his fame grew, he was often singled out as the guest of honor.

Toward the end of his ministry, he did the hosting, making arrangements for Passover, breaking the bread, preparing a breakfast for his disciples by the sea shore. In other words, he seems to move step-by-step from the periphery of the social world toward the very center. And there are passages to suggest that in paradise it is actually his body and blood that we consume. You canÕt get any more central to the dining experience than that.

The Gospel writers put Jesus in the midst of communal living, doing the things that people do together. He regarded these occasions as opportunities to serve, more than as opportunities to indulge the appetites or the ego.

In the Gospel, people ate together, and at these meals Jesus made himself and many of his teachings known. Among his teachings was the contrast between honor and service. It is no surprise then that paradise is often depicted Ð and not just in the Christian texts -- as a feast or banquet to which you and I are invited. At that time, we are not alone, like taking room service, but instead we arrive in our best clothes to celebrate among others. It is to be a party. ÁViva La Fiesta!

Significantly, after death, Jesus walked alongside two men toward Emmaus, but they did not even recognize him until they sat down to supper, for it was in the breaking of bread that their eyes were opened.