You Are What You Eat
As we enter Thanksgiving week and many of our minds turn to our stomachs, let us take a moment to consider the relationship between what we consume and who we are becoming.
Traditional Thanksgiving meals typically involve Turkey, potatoes, corn, bread, gravy, stuffing, and it is perhaps the one time of year that cranberries become the fruit of choice. However, in our allergy-aware and health-conscious cultures today, I imagine that there are many substitutes made. The globalization of our nation and growing interconnectivity of the world today likely will have an influence on the types of food served this Thursday. We may decry a loss of tradition and culture in this, but I cannot remember eating any Native American style cooked food in my previous 33 years of Thanksgiving experiences. Microwaves were used every year. One of my favorite dishes was a mix of tofu and baked beans that my aunt used to make. I didn’t care whether the pilgrims made it or not… it was good.
The food around the table is not the main purpose, because it is not really Thanksgiving without the people there to enjoy it. I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving away from family, one in particular at Cracker Barrel with my wife when we were unable to travel the 300 and 500 miles back to our families. It was nice, but it wasn’t really the same. So Thanksgiving really begins with the people and without them, you are just eating turkey.
Jesus may have created one of the first Thanksgiving meals (if we can set aside our predispositions about the types of food required).
The Feeding of Five Thousand
“After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee (that is, Tiberias). And a large crowd was following him because they were observing the signs that he was doing on those who were sick. So Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. (Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.) Then Jesus, when he looked up and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread so that these people can eat?” (Now he said this to test him, because he knew what he was going to do.) Philip replied to him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for them, in order that each one could receive a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “Here is a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people recline.” (Now there was a lot of grass in the place.) So the men reclined, approximately five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the bread, and after he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were reclining—likewise also of the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they were satisfied, he said to his disciples, “Gather the remaining fragments so that nothing is lost.” So they gathered them, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. ” (John 6:1-13)
The people are gathered. Food is shared. Thanks is given to God. Everyone walks away full and some even take home leftovers. I wonder if the descendents of that small boy would become pilgrims someday as the Jewish people scattered across Europe and eventually North America… It was a miracle for sure, but for most of the 5,000 people, it was a miracle that only lasted a day.
Discourse About the Bread of Life
“On the next day, the crowd that was on the other side of the sea saw that other boats were not there (except one), and that Jesus had not entered with his disciples into the boat, but his disciples had departed alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus.
And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replied to them and said, “Truly, truly I say to you, you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were satisfied! Do not work for the food that perishes, but the food that remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has set his seal on this one.”
So they said to him, “What shall we do that we can accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one whom that one sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign will you perform, so that we can see it and believe you? What will you do? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’
Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, Moses did not give you bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven! For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, always give us this bread!”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty again. But I said to you that you have seen me and do not believe. Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never throw out, because I have come down from heaven not that I should do my will, but the will of the one who sent me. Now this is the will of the one who sent me: that everyone whom he has given me, I would not lose any of them, but raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks at the Son and believes in him would have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Now the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they were saying, “Is this one not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves! No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears from the Father and learns comes to me. (Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God—this one has seen the Father.) Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that someone may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
So the Jews began to quarrel among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves! The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so also the one who eats me—that one will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” ” (John 6:22-58)
The phrase “You are what you eat,” was originally penned by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1826: “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are. That is a wakeup call for us spiritually as well as physically. What Jesus desired for His disciples and what He desires for us is a miracle that lasts more than a day. He wants to rebuild us from the inside out. That won’t happen with fish and bread or turkey and mashed potatoes. We only get that from taking in Jesus and letting him reshape us.
I’m going to bypass the long arguments about transubstantiation and sacramental theology at this point, making only two short points:
- There is an obvious connection here between this command to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus and the institution of the Lord’s Supper – Holy Communion. I will not deny that.
- Holy Communion is not the only way that we can invite Jesus into our lives. There are other “means of grace” such as reading scripture, prayer, fellowship with other believers (spiritual accountability), worship, etc.)
The bottom line is, we need to find ways to invite Jesus into our lives if we truly want to become more like Him. What is the alternative? If we are not spending our days getting more Jesus into us, what are we putting into ourselves in His place?
Jesus consistently lived the example that it is better to give than to receive. This week, the world teaches the tradition that you are to eat til you drop and then wake up the next day and shop til you drop – all the while running over anyone in your way. Will you win back Thanksgiving for Jesus and find a way to bless someone else? Will you find a stranger to bless?