You are what you eat

by Sep 2, 2019

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Jesus attends a meal hosted by one of the leaders of the Pharisees

What do you like to eat? What is your favourite food? That is probably one of the most universal questions. We all have an answer. More so than ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ or ‘Whose your favourite Beatle?’

But it can also bring to light differences. Perhaps somebody might say sausages, and another vegetarian bake. Perhaps somebody might say a spicy Lamb Vindaloo, or a bland steak and potatoes. We all need to eat, but we can also quite quickly judge somebody by what they choose to eat, or what they feed their children. We are, after all, what we eat. Sadly the nutrition advice tends to be build up this sense of morality around what we eat. Children get taught from a young age that some food is good and some food is bad. How easy it is to start getting into a bad relationship with food if we start relating too much of our own goodness on what we eat. Or we can judge how good somebody is based on how well they cook – presumably that is why the Great British Bake off is back for it’s 10th season. We all need to eat, but we don’t all eat the same thing. But in reality, food is all good – no food is good when it becomes a vice, when we eat too much of it. I knew somebody who ate so much carrot that his skin began to become tinted orange – no he wasn’t Donald Trump, but that would explain something.

Food can both bring us together and, like anything, can be used to divide us. And that is the sin we are reminded of in today’s Old Testament – the sin that clings to us. The sin of self-righteousness, of judging others, of idolising our selves as being somehow greater, of somehow thinking we have earned that greatness ourselves, rather than being thankful for what we have as a gift from God.

Jesus knew how important food could be, both as an equaliser and an opportunity to judge and divide people. Jesus is regularly eating meals in the Gospels – often with those he most disagreed with, such as the Pharisees in today’s story. If you can get them to agree to it, having a meal together can be the best way to bring people together to talk about the things they disagree about. Because, as we said before, we all need to eat. Eating is also such an inherently personal thing. To do with our own taste, to do with our bodies. So Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. He eats with Pharisees who want to challenge him. He eats with his closest friends when he wants to tell them about why he is going to die and how we will remember his death in the act of sharing in that same meal.

I’m not sure if Jesus was considered a good guest or not. He is not the polite dinner guest who takes a seat and makes conversation with the person next to me. Instead he observes the guest and the host and then starts to teach them about how they need to change. Here in Luke, Jesus is observing how the dinner guests are taking seats, trying to honour themselves by sitting next to the host, or next to the guest of honour.
Or perhaps they are avoiding that person nobody wants to be seen with.

So Jesus tells a parable. About a wedding banquet where you take a seat of honour and have to be asked by the host to give somebody else your seat. Jesus encourages us to take the lowest seat and be invited ‘Friend, move up higher’ to a better seat. In sikhism there is a similar story – of a prince who came to visit one of the Gurus. The prince was invited to eat the langar meal – the meal which is open to all and which sikhs have in the large dinning hall of their Gudwara’s. In the langar meal each diner takes the next seat on the floor beside the previous person in the queue. Nobody has a reserved seat. The Prince’s entourage demanded that he be seated on a raised platform but the Guru did not accept his request. All eat together as equals.

I wonder if the host felt happy that Jesus was sorting out his dinner guests – either way Jesus exacting eye then turns to his host, who seeing these people all vying for honour and position tells his host he should not be trying to invite the great and the good – his friends and those who might come to owe him a favour. Instead, Jesus puts his host in his place and tells them to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and those who could never repay the favour. The act of offering hospitality is meant to be a generous outpouring, like the one meal which Jesus eventually hosts. A meal where we truly do become what we eat, the body of Christ, a meal we could never repay, a meal we could never earn, a meal which is fundamentally one of the most wonderful mysteries of our faith, where simple ingredients. Things which were common place in 1st century Israel, bread and wine, can be transformed into something which brings us together with all the church in God’s Kingdom. Something which heals and empowers us, which is the gift for all the members of God’s church. Which joins us together in Christ’s body for eternity. Eating this meal, replaying this generous hospitality of God, shapes us to be conformed to Christ’s image. So that we can try again to act with the same generosity in our interactions with others – recognising them as being made God’s image, worthy of the honour we owe to God.

A Jesuit who had the responsibility of answering the door at the monastery, whenever the bell rang, he would call out ‘coming Lord’ to remind himself that whoever was on the other side of that door should be treated with that respect. It’s not always easy to keep ourselves from pride, and to remember to offer that kind of generosity to those we encounter, but by the grace of God, in a world where we are constantly being encouraged to jump to conclusions, and be prejudiced, based on culture or cooking or political leanings. may we remember to see Christ in those we meet.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

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