Eating our way to the great banquet
Should one serve hummus to a hog farmer? Clashing food “shoulds” fill our conversations.
Mennonites are divided. Some of us refuse to eat meat; others raise meat. Some of us protest the size of chicken cages; others sort eggs from the cages. Some of us wouldn’t eat anything trucked over 100 miles; others make decisions based solely on price. Both sides can sound self-righteous.
Whether we like it or not, our food habits are part of the global economy. Economic interests and ecological implications flavor our food choices. What we eat is not a simple choice.
Jesus lived before genetically modified olives, before pesticide-tinged lentils, before food-transporting trucks, before fish were tainted with mercury, before environmental degradation was a massive problem.
Jesus gives us no clear directives about food choices. If we want a model of a locavore, we should look to John the Baptist, who dined on locusts and wild honey.
Jesus dealt with other food problems. Jews of his day were concerned with the reputation and status of dining companions. They strived for purity in meal preparation. Revolutionary anti-Rome Zealots would not be seen at the same table with collaborating Sadducees. Faithful Jews would not eat food prepared by Gentiles.
For Jesus, eating was a boundary-crossing, trouble-causing occasion. Jesus invited himself to the less-than-honest tax collector’s house. Those watching grumbled, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner” (Luke 19: 1-10). He dined at the home of a prominent Pharisee, whom he promptly offended with a Sabbath healing (Luke 14:1-4). He asked for water from a Samaritan woman, which astonished even his disciples (John 4:1-27).
Jesus turned table etiquette upside down. He blurred the distinctions between host and guest, honored seat and lowly corner, acceptable and unacceptable, needy and wealthy.
How do the ripples of Jesus’ boundary crossing inform our table protocol and our eating habits? Are there distinctions in our society we need to challenge? What would happen if we held a party at an upscale restaurant for those who dine at our soup kitchens?
The kingdom of God has been likened to a banquet where the poor and the rejected are served a great feast. We might not be sure what’s on the table, but we are sure everyone is welcome — the haves and the have nots, the organic snobs and the fast-food servers, the foodies and frugal. We don’t owe our allegiance to any group — vegetarians, locavores, industrial farm lobbyists or chemical companies. We owe our allegiance to Jesus.
We may have a burger at McDonald’s, but we aren’t afraid to speak out about low wages at fast-food places. We may dine with an upscale power broker, but we aren’t too classy to eat with Dumpster divers. We may enjoy meat, but we aren’t afraid to talk about grain consumption and world hunger.
We keep crossing lines while proclaiming there is food for all and justice is coming. We aren’t always sure how justice looks, but we keep eating our way to the great banquet where the first are last and everyone has enough.
One could try serving hummus topped with bacon crumbles. Or would that make everyone complain?
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.
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