There is so much imagery in the Bible, something I took for granted growing up reading it. I just got used to all the metaphors. My sheep hear My voice. You are the light of the world. Blessed are the poor in spirit.
But one image that still felt strange to me was how Jesus tells us to eat Him. I used to squirm during communion, feeling embarrassed for first time visitors being creeped out. Of all words and images, why food?
On the other hand, food is such an important part of our lives.
Hunger is an inevitable experience of being alive--more accurately, of being human. In our first world culture we have three meals a day. And whether breakfast means a simple bowl of cereal to you or a full hot meal complete with rice, soup, side dishes, and pickles (Korean style! what a great way to start the day) that means a considerable portion of our day is spent in consuming food and preparing food. If we look at the percentage of time we spend on food, juxtaposed with the greatest things the human race has achieved, it somehow has a deflating effect. Beethoven could have written some of the world's most beautiful symphonies but he still had to stop for lunch.
And Jesus Himself felt hunger pangs! Was hangry enough for turning bread into stones to be a legitimate temptation.
That was part and parcel of humbling Himself to take on the form of man. When I see mynahs scuttering along the road side, anxiously searching for scraps, it makes me realize how their lives are simply all about finding the next meal. I feel sorry for them until I realize that from one perspective, so are ours. It is a somewhat dehumanizing feeling to realize how completely dependent we are on food. Especially if you see all our grand ideals on the potential of humanity and the purpose of life as depending on something as prosaic as a bowl of rice or a pack of biscuits or half a cold boiled potato.
Having said all that on how hunger can be seen as a weakness, I think I needn't go to all that effort to convince you that despite all said above, food nevertheless continues to be one of the greatest, most tangible blessings we can enjoy from God, every single day; one of the most colourful and cheering parts of our everyday lives, one of the simplest and yet most satisfying things we could possibly do for ourselves or others. I just saw a photo on Instagram, where a struggling college student posted about how her boyfriend had showed up with groceries to support her. And really, who wouldn't be touched by that? I know that when someone buys me food I generally feel even more humbled and thankful than if they had bought me something else. Every mouthful I take becomes a reminder of their kindness and my sense of being in debt to them. I remember to this day the dear friend (rather, I'd prefer to say "aunty," Singaporean style) who bought me my first Starbucks when I was in my early teens, and the sensation of gazing at her over that magnificent mound of whipped cream with a sort of rapturous gratefulness. (In case this sounds weird to you--for someone who grew up on an allowance of two dollars a week, and who stopped getting pocket money once I started working odd jobs, Starbucks at six dollars a cup is a level of decadence somewhere in the clouds.)
Food is good. It may not reflect us in the most glamorous light, but because of its sheer goodness we embrace it wholeheartedly.
I think of one particular bus ride, travelling back home one night from teaching. It was cold and raining, of course. I had about a dollar and forty cents on me (I think I had just bought my books then; all hail the annual season for debt!) and I was hungry. Absolutely faint, I decided, as my nose picked out with wretched satisfaction the traces of McDonalds' lingering around a student's backpack, Four Fingers chicken in the woolly blazer of an office lady, and something that smelt perishingly like fried hokkien mee in the white styrofoam packets an old lady was carrying. The bus stopped briefly in front of a hawker center where, through the blur of rain-misted glass and people on the streets trying to outstep the drizzle, I saw the warm glow of a heavenly paradise where all sorts of food was arrayed and displayed, inviting, demanding, clamouring to be eaten.
There is a reason why I still reread Frances Hodgeson Burnett's A Little Princess. Even as a child I loved that book for its depictions of food and hunger, so satisfying and relatable to read about. I still can't forget how that book made a meat pie and freshly baked buns become so important, so unforgettable.
And I finally understand why the Bible uses the imagery of food so often to describe our relationship with God.
Jesus said, take, eat. This is My body.
To eat is to acknowledge our weakness, our need for food.
In the same way, eating the Lord's Supper is to acknowledge our weakness--our sin.
And yet, the connotations of food, of a meal, are anything but depressing. We associate it with comfort, with happiness, with companionship, with enjoyment. We find so much pleasure in food that we embrace our need for it joyfully, are all the better able to appreciate it.
God offers us the fulfilment to our deepest needs and most wordless desires; to the loudest reminders of our weaknesses.
And He does this, so delightfully and wonderfully, that we can embrace our neediness and weakness, joyfully.
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live...
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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