In the last post, I alluded to Frodo and his companions leading a rebellion against Sarumon and his henchmen upon their return from the great battle with Sauron. How might we rebel against the forces of greed and power in our day, which destroy nature, the land’s bounty, and community? Among other things, we have to engage in a food fight—a fight over food. After all, one of the reasons why the hobbits were so successful in getting past Sauron’s defenses was their ability to travel beneath the radar. They were humble in demeanor and demonstrated sacrificial love for one another, as characterized by their delight in fellowship around food.
Just think of Jesus, the hobbit Lord, who prepared for his great battle against the forces of evil at the cross and resurrection with a family feast, foot washing, farewell discourse, and prayer (See John 13-17). So, too, in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), Jesus encourages his disciples to pray to their heavenly Father for food, as they cry out for God’s kingdom to come while sojourning in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. In these and other ways, Jesus blesses food fights. After all, he loves a good food fight. In what follows, we will think through how the Lord blesses fights over food.
First, thanksgiving and prayer for food is an act of rebellion. Karl Barth purportedly claimed, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” Rather than seizing and hoarding food like the Israelites in the wilderness and so many people today in our secular wasteland, we are called to approach God with an open hand, acknowledging our need and his ability to meet that need. We must acknowledge the divine giver and gift. Otherwise, we fall prey to the same disorderly conduct as those in the wilderness.
Prayer for food also serves to remind us that we are stewards of God’s green earth, not owners of it. As we acknowledge God’s lordship, the call to stewardship and our dependence on God to provide, we pursue a course of responsibility and peace to orderly conduct, rather greed to disorder. Disorder in the Shire came about as greed in commerce was planted in souls, sprouted and spread, leading to the loss of food and drink for many inhabitants. So, too, greed over transactions involving food creates all kinds of disorder in our world today. In place of fighting over who gets the food or how much to profit over food, may we be marked by making sure we fight for everyone having food and engaging in transactions with one another while eating together, as people in many indigenous cultures do. Sitting Bull once said that white man can make anything (and I would add, profit from anything, including daily necessities), but he does not know how to distribute it. Jesus had confidence in his Father to provide. Rather than starting a riot among the masses longing for food to eat, Jesus prays and distributes food to them, even at great cost personally, as he finds relational nourishment in the Father and gives himself as food for the world (See John chapter 6, including verse 56-58).
Second, table fellowship can function as an act of rebellion. Just as prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world, so too is table fellowship involving sacrificial friendship. Those who seize and hoard food eat in isolation. They may have full stomachs, but they also have empty souls. Sacrificial friendship is food and eases hunger pains. Jesus gives himself sacrificially for the world rather than takes from others. The Last Supper, including the Lord’s Supper, is an act of rebellion against our individualism and greed, as Jesus gives himself sacrificially as food to fill our needy souls with God’s love. Mother Teresa once said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” Jesus provides the ultimate remedy in his sacrifice on our behalf, as reflected in the Lord’s Supper.
One may find a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice involving food in the Chuukese culture’s emphasis on nourishment; all transactions of note involve food in this culture, according to my friend Grateful Nokar. Last Saturday at New Wine, New Wineskins’ conference “Food Fight: A Civil Dialogue over Food,” Grateful shared that the root of the word for children in Chuukese culture is the same root of the word for food being stuck in someone’s throat. A parent who sits down for food and his or her children are absent is at a loss; their sense of loss leads to the food getting stuck in their throat. This is such a powerful image of the connection between food and communion, as well as the disconnection involving isolation. Food eaten in relational isolation leads us to choke in American society. No matter how many times we perform the Heimlich maneuver, we will never be able to clear the throat to our soul, if we do not move beyond hoarding to sharing food in community.
Table fellowship with outsiders can also function as an act of rebellion, which will lead to suffering, as those in power often exclude those like Jesus for his associations with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus called on those around him to reframe their approach to outsiders in view of his kingdom, which sets a table for the hungry, thirsty, and those who are sick, not those who are well and full of themselves (See Matthew 9:10-12).
Third, Jesus’ sacrifice is an act of rebellion in that he offers himself as a pure, righteous sacrifice on behalf of all creation. Having spoken of Jesus distributing food so that all can have enough, we now come to terms with the qualitative dimension of Jesus’ sacrifice and its bearing on food. Jesus gives himself as the first fruits of the kingdom of God, as he offers himself as the ultimate sacrifice. What a prophetic contrast his provision is to the polluted sacrifices the food industry often makes available to consumers! Jesus gives himself as the first fruits of the harvest (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). As we engage in transactions involving food, we must act righteously, as our Lord does.
My friend, Garrett Ka’ili Wells Jr., shared this powerful reflection in response to my blog post titled, “Food Fight—A Civil Dialogue over Our Daily Bread”. It bears upon the subject of food quality, equity, and righteous living in the land:
The power of food and those who wield it is of a huge concern in Hawai’i. I can only speak from my context, but I hope to help [shine] some light on the issue of food and give a different perspective.
Hawaiians believe in having right relationships (Pono) with three things: God (Ke Akua), people (Nā Kanaka), and the environment (Ka ʻĀina). Pono means much more than “right/righteous,” but also has connotations such as harmony, balance, and the like. Because the idea of Pono is such an enormous and important concept to us, this word comes up frequently in discussions about food (Ka mea ʻai) and the land (Ka ʻĀina), from new building projects to Monsanto’s attempt at staking a claim in Hawaiian lands.
In all honesty, of the three things that Hawaiians believe in keeping Pono with, the environment has been obviously observed as being the most neglected. Things like global warming, gentrification, the North Pacific Garbage Patch, and general pollution can be observed when living on any island in Hawai’i. To claim that humans can inject something into the air, water, or land without any consequences for their actions is not only a foreign concept to most of us, but an ignorant and irresponsible one.
The main idea behind a Pono relationship with the land is that it gives back what we give it. If [we] overwork it, give it bad nutrients, or otherwise irresponsibly tend to it (or neglect it altogether), then it literally gives us back the fruits of our labors. Talk about the good of the land and sea are understood to be not just for the land, but for the good of people and God, and the relationships between each. To deny the interconnected nature of these three things is to deny the very thing that can help all who are affected by things like swollen nutritious food prices, cheaper and accessible fast food, accessibility of food to the marginalized, GMO’s, etc.
It is my humble opinion that, until we put things in proper perspective, no true progress can be made toward the common good. This perspective must include a healthy care for the other without selfish concern for fleeting things such as profit.
Further to what my friend Ka’ili says about care for the human other, we must also care for the non-human other, namely animals. It is worth noting that Jesus replaces animal sacrifices with his once-for-all sacrifice for sins. Even in the Old Testament context, God commanded the humane treatment of animals, including those prepared for sacrifice. Holiness involves the humane treatment of animals, as I argued in a blog post by that title. Jesus gives himself as first fruits and in place of animals, recapitulating all of creaturely life through himself as signified by the bread and wine. While we may still eat meat, may we raise animals and prepare food in a humane way. As stewards of creation, may we be mindful of Jesus’ care for the creation and his sacrifice on behalf of all creation as its Lord.
Jesus nourishes us at the Holy Supper and strengthens us for the daily battle over food. As we consume Jesus in the bread and wine, he consumes us and transforms our lives. “At this table we participate in the flesh of Christ, who, as we consume the bread and wine, consumes us into his life giving, cleansing body and blood. He consumes us into his life, life itself.” At the table, Jesus transforms our eating habits and table etiquette. As Jesus blesses the food, he also blesses us and grants us permission to join him in his rebellion against the fallen system of disorder. The food fight Jesus’ followers’ wage involves thanksgiving, prayer and table fellowship centered in Jesus’ pure sacrifice. Jesus loves a good food fight. So, dig in. Let today’s battle begin!
For a related discussion, see my essay “Changing He-Men into Halflings,” in The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town, with an introduction by Leonard Sweet and an afterword by Rick McKinley (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), pages 167-171.
See N. T. Wright’s piece “The Lord’s Prayer as a Paradigm of Christian Prayer,” which makes a connection between Jesus’ prayer and community and the people of Israel under Moses. The piece is published in Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament, ed. R.L. Longenecker (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001), pages 132-54.
See my blog post titled “Sitting Bull and Food Inequity in America Today.”
See Kent Brower and Andy Johnson, Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), pages 66-67.
See the following blog post titled “Holiness Involves the Humane Treatment of Animals.” There I reference David Sears’ volume, The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism (Create Space Independent Publishing Platform; 2 edition, 2014). See also my post, “Tree Huggers and Puppy Kickers.”
See Daniel Reeves’ article, “My Medicine Is More Potent,” The Episcopal Center at Duke University, posted on February 13, 2012. See also William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), which Reeves also references.