Chew On This

Michael Metzger

Take and eat.
Kissing ought to be more than swapping spit and sex more than exchanging bodily fluids. Similarly, food and eating ought to be about more than stuffing our faces. Like what? According to the Judeo-Christian faith, the phrase take and eat provides a hint. It describes food and eating as pointing toward something. They are one of many “signals of transcendence” – human experiences that are universal and instinctive, yet require answers that lie beyond themselves.1 Food and eating as a pointer? Yeah, right.

For some of us, this is way too mystical. Americans take pride in being “practical,” like the gruff doctor in Chesterton’s Father Brown novels. ‘I’m afraid I’m a practical man and I don’t bother much about religion and philosophy.’ ‘You’ll never be a practical man till you do,’ said Father Brown. Nor will food and eating ever amount to more than chow and chewing without sketching the story of take and eat.

Take and eat is found in every chapter of the ancient “four-chapter” gospel. In creation (chapter one), God sealed the deal with Adam and Eve in a covenant that included “everything that has breath of life in it” for their food.2 In the ancient Near East sharing a meal was the equivalent of establishing a covenant. We still seal business deals with meals. In fact, our English word companion is derived from the French and Latin words meaning “one who eats bread with another.” Take and eat points to a covenant.

Take and eat also points to one of the deepest mysteries of the universe: life is renewed through death. In the garden, the original couple would have taken produce, fruit and the lives of animals to live. Every time we take and eat, countless lives – plant and animal – had to be taken for our enjoyment.

Take and eat points as well to the deepest tragedy of the universe, our fall from grace (chapter two). The result is alienation from God and others. Most people cannot enjoy a meal with an enemy or someone who has hurt them deeply.

Take and eat also points toward rectifying our fall through the deepest mystery of the universe. In our redemption (chapter three), take and eat was solemnly offered by Jesus on the night before he was killed. “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, he broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”3 Celebrating the Lord’s Supper reminds us that the human race is alienated from God and life is renewed by death. Whether eating cereal, devouring a porterhouse steak, savoring salmon or sipping a glass of orange juice, renewing life requires death.

The proof in the pudding – to use a food metaphor – is found in King David’s twenty-third psalm: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”4 Redemption enables us to enjoy a meal in the midst of enemies because, as Jesus commanded us: “Love your enemies and pray for those who give you a hard time.”5 Take and eat points to how well followers of Jesus understand his love, redemption and the story of food and eating. As Abraham Lincoln reminded us, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” One way to measure redemption – and how well we know this story of food and eating – is to count the number of times we invite over for a meal those who despise us or just plain give us a hard time.

Take and eat finally points to the new heavens and new earth (chapter four). After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” Sure, Jesus was hungry. Yet he also brought full circle the original idea in creation – that covenants are coupled with take and eat. Luke records that “the disciples gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.”6 Take and eat points to a four-chapter story that concludes with a table overflowing with food.7

We eat because we’re hungry. No doubt about it. Yet we ought also to eat because we’re holy. The word holy has the idea of other. We’re supposed to live and eat in ways other than the animals. Take and eat points out that food and eating ought to be more than stuffing our faces, just as kissing ought to be more than swapping spit and sex more than exchanging body fluids. Or is this too mystical?

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1 This term was developed by Peter Ludwig Berger, a University Professor and Director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University. This phrase is taken from his book A Rumor of Angels(New York: Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1990), pp.59-65
2 Genesis 1:26-30. This is called the human job description or the Cultural Mandate – to “have dominion” and rule the earth.
3 Matthew 26:26
4 Psalm 23:5
5 Matthew 5:44
6 Luke 24:41-44
7 Psalm 36:7-9; Isaiah 25:6; Joel 3:18 and Amos 9:13-14

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