19. Jesus, Food, and Meals

Here we begin an in-depth look at meals in the Bible, with a special focus on the meals Jesus shared.

Food and Blessing

The book of Genesis tells us that before the fall, Adam and Eve spent the daytime tending a garden overflowing with abundant plant life, much of which was available to them as food. They walked with God in the cool of the evening, a practice of setting aside time to enjoy God’s presence. A significant component of the curse, after God exiled them from Eden, was that Adam and Eve and all their descendants would henceforth access food only by the sweat of their brows; our need for food didn’t change, but our ability to obtain it was forever made problematic.

Bread, wine, milk, oil, fig, pomegranate, fish, honey, wheat and barley are all foods associated with God’s great spiritual blessings and salvation in Scripture. Moreover, gospel as food for the hungry is a constant metaphoric biblical theme. The prophet Joel, in pleading with Israel to repent and fast after the land is overrun by locusts, reminds the people that after God’s judgment and punishment the harvest will be restored to overflowing for those who call on the name of the Lord. “You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you…” (Joel 2:26)

Isaiah prophesied a feast of rich food prepared by God for all people, “a banquet of aged wine-the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples … he will swallow up death forever.” (Isa 25:6-8). You can’t miss the messianic picture here; by virtue of his own death shroud found neatly folded in an empty tomb, Jesus frees people from death and invites them first to remember him with a memorial meal, and, upon his return, to a lavish wedding feast.

 A Savior for a Hungry World

I have come to the conclusion that Jesus, unlike his hermit cousin John, was a foodie in the most marvelous sense of the word. God’s only son consented to leave his glory behind in heaven and take on a fully human form. That alone is worthy of praise. But, to view the New Testament Jesus through the eyes of food and meals, as one who was just as dependent on the earth’s fruits and people’s hospitality as we are, brings us to a position of wonder. This Jesus, son of God, author of creation, able to partake of heavenly banquets at any turn, master chef of manna and vintner fine wine, arrived poor, needy, hungry, and dependent, and he accepted this lowly position on our behalf. Moreover, Jesus spent a good deal of his time eating in the company of others, even enemies, sharing food and companionship, and using these opportunities to connect, teach, confront and love; in short, he “used simple hospitality and mealtime conversations to share the gospel.”[1]

In his gospel, Luke intentionally presents Jesus from birth to death, resurrection and ascension, as the means of salvation, and it is Luke, more than any other of the gospel writers, who characteristically sets his salvation stories of Jesus in the context of meals, fasts, feasts, and food.[2] Jesus’ cousin John abstains from wine and other fermented drinks in the priestly way of Samson, Samuel and the Nazirites (Luke 1:15). In her song at Jesus’ conception, Mary sings of God’s favor and mercy in filling the hungry with good things (Luke 1:53). For lack of anything better, Mary and Joseph must lay Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem, a crude feeding trough for animals (Luke 2:7). Later, Jesus himself would say, “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12:23-25). The Bread of Life, cradled in a rude manger “begins to symbolize how God will feed his “hungry” people…through Jesus.”[3]

[1] D. Webster, Table Grace: The Role of Hospitality in the Christian Life, p. 14

[2] For an excellent overview of the meal scenes in Luke, see books by Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011) and John Paul Heil, The Meal Scenes in Luke-Acts: An Audience-Oriented Approach (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1999).

[3] Heil, The Meal Scenes in Luke Acts: An Audience-Oriented Approach, p. 19.

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