Once upon a time, Abraham and Sarah own a poor tailor shop next door to a very upscale French restaurant. Every day at lunch time, Abraham and Sarah would go out the back of their shop and eat their black bread and herring while smelling the wonderful odors coming from the restaurant’s kitchen. One day, the restaurant surprises them with an invoice that reads ‘for enjoyment of food’. So Abraham and Sarah go over to the restaurant to point out that they never buy anything from them. The manager says, “You’re enjoying our food, so you should pay us for it.” Abraham and Sarah refuse to pay and the restaurant sues them. At the hearing, the judge asks the restaurant to present their side of the case. The manager says, “Every day, this man and woman come and sit outside our kitchen. They smell our food while eating their own food. It is clear that we are providing added value to their poor food. We deserve compensation.” The judge turns to Abraham and Sarah saying, “What do you have to say?” Abraham and Sarah say nothing. Instead, Abraham sticks his hand in his pocket and rattles the few coins he has inside. The judge asks him, “What are you doing?” Abraham replies, “I’m paying for the smell of his food with the sound of my money.”
When we sit down “for enjoyment of food,” God does not rattle the coins. God speaks to us.
At the entrance of their tent, God visits Abraham and Sarah for the enjoyment of food. As The Trinity appears to them, Abraham and Sarah perform the law of Bedouin hospitality. Abraham begs them to remain in his tent. He washes their feet. He and Sarah lay a feast before them. They perform true justice, giving food, drink and lodging to guests. In the end it is God’s justice who rewards them with the gift of a son.
Coming to the town of Bethany, Jesus joins Mary and Martha for the enjoyment of food. Martha welcomes him, not Mary and not their brother Lazarus. Some scholars suggest that by the time Luke writes his Gospel, Martha is the head of a house church. There at her home Christians gather for the Eucharist. Is she is a leader in the early Christian community? Did she and her sister learn Gospel lessons from Jesus? One lesson Martha learns is that while leadership is about serving and feeding the many, her sister Mary often yearns for something more. That good part is listening to the Word of God that comes from the Spirit of Jesus.
To choose that good part of the kingdom of God meant that one-day Mary had to be a little rebellious. That one fateful day when Jesus came to their home in Bethany, Mary decided not to help her sister Martha. She knew that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem…where…he would be persecuted…laughed at…scorned…and….put-to-death. Would eating anything at this juncture matter? Is running around serving more important than listening to the Lord’s fears and hopes and dreams for the kingdom? And maybe even Jesus needed Mary to sit and listen. So when Martha expresses her irritation at her sister’s indolence, Jesus shocks his followers. People expected Jesus to tell Mary, “Ok, your place is in the kitchen with your sister.” Instead, he says, “Martha, I know that you are busy about leading this Christian community and about serving the many, but right now listening to the Word is more important.”
When we sit down “for enjoyment of food,” God joins us and changes us.
Now that is what we read in the scriptures but we do we believe this as Christians? In the Christian faith and in the Jewish faith, our divine rituals take place at meals. The Passover and the Sabbath commemorate not only God’s salvation of his people but also the event of God’s creation that continues weekly. The Eucharist is our daily remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice that culminates in the Resurrection. All these rituals involve food that we ingest to commune with God. When we sit down then to eat with one another we continue these saving events and we invite God to be part of our actions. Hence we pray, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen.” But who remembers this prayer under the age of forty? And who still eats together as a family? Twenty percent of all American meals are taken in the car. One in four persons eats fast food. And in 2011, the US Department of Agriculture published a report that said Americans ate 1,996 tons of food. How can we hear God speak to us as we woof down fast food and gorge ourselves with whatever we can grab with our greedy hands?
The psalmist tells us that the “one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” Eating, brothers and sisters, is a matter of justice- it is a matter of faith. Would I even think of inviting guests to dinner and have them sit and watch me eat and not feed them? According to Abraham and Sarah, this violates their dignity. According to Jesus, this is an immoral choice.
Ironically, every Sunday, Jesus is the host when we come to the Eucharist. We are the guests. Jesus sets the table and invites us for the enjoyment of food. The only thing He wants us to do is to sit down together, be quiet, and listen.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.