A Theology of Eating

There should be one, and if there isn’t—then we should have one. For the Bible is full of these eating episodes that there should be sense in all of them. Notice, for instance, that every time Yahweh (or the Angel of the Lord) shows up, there has to be some meal? On the way to nuking Sodom and Gomorrah, Yahweh meets up with Abraham, and what do they do? They have a merienda (Genesis 18:5). Yahweh performs His great rescue mission when His people were held captive by the Egyptians. You would think that it would be a covert operation like the rescue of the Jewish hostages in Uganda when Idi Amin Dada hijacked that Air France flight back in 1967. Nope, Yahweh has to order the Israelites to have a meal (Exodus 12: The Passover). And they have to make a run for it with a full stomach (remember it was a "no leftover" deal).

Later, when Yahweh Incarnate comes along—among his numerous titles—he is also known as “a glutton and a drunkard.” (Matthew 11:19) And everywhere he goes, he eats. Levi (a.k.a. Matthew) gets saved—they eat. Zaccheus turns to him and they eat. He’s in a meal in almost every turn of events. In fact, reading the Gospel of Luke, there are more meals than serious ministry meetings. He dines with Pharisees, tax collectors and "sinners." (Luke 7:36ff.; 15:1-2) Just before he gets crucified, he eats.

And what does he do when resurrected? He eats again. After the walk up to Emmaus, he eats. And back up in Galilee, they have a barbeque. And this goes on for the next 40 days until “one occasion” just before he goes up to the Yahweh the Father...he eats again. His promise is that when he comes back, we will have a fiesta (Luke 14:15). And in the meantime, if ever and whenever we are iffy in our faith, he says:

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3.20).

And while he’s physically gone, we remember him with a meal.

Why on earth would God eat? It seems that eating goes beyond the biological function of replenishing ourselves. At least in the ancient near east, it was a means of making covenants (Bailey 1973). This explains the eating during the giving of the Ten Commandments which meant that the act of eating together bound two or more persons in more than one way. To eat with someone was to declare that he or she is a friend, beloved, partner, and one unconditionally accepted which then explains the chagrin of the Pharisees when Jesus was seen eating with tax collectors and sinners. In those days, you cannot casually share tables as you would today in crowded fast foods. Eating with someone in public was a declaration of solidarity.

So powerful an act, that eating made friends of out enemies. This was highlighted in a HBO movie "The Beast." It is a made-for-TV movie about a Russian tank on patrol in Afghanistan (with matching Southern Californian accents). It revolves around a Russian conscientious objector left to die in the desert by his irritated crew mates and sadistic tank commander. Found by the Afghans, they debated whether to execute him or hold him as hostage. One of the Afghans thought maybe he could fix broken armaments which he did handily. That prolonged the debate among the Afghans further; and while they were bickering among themselves, one of them picked up some bread ("broke bread" literally) and tossed it to the Russian. The moment the Russian ate—the argument was settled—he was one of them.

Eating is sacramental in Scriptures. It made friends of God and humanity and it can make friends out of enemies giving new light to an old familiar verse:

"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." (Psalm 23.5a)

So there you have it—this coming together for a meal becomes the glue for community. Thus communion and community go together. Notice that in Acts 2:42ff; the believers became “communist”—there was this redistribution of wealth which was paralleled by breaking bread and eating in their homes. For “eating” communities like Asians (Arabs & Filipinos), that is the sacrament.

Incorporated in Out of the Box: The Apostle's Creed in the 21st Century (Alethinos 2006 ISBN: 978-971-691-685-6)

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