Bad Figs


Bad Figs

Jeremiah 24:1–10 (NRSV)

The LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the LORD. This was after King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the artisans, and the smiths, and had brought them to Babylon. One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”

Then the word of the LORD came to me: Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

But thus says the LORD: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth—a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they are utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.

While volunteering at our local food pantry, I got a little more insight into how wasteful we can be in our
American culture. Especially regarding food. We fortunately have a decent amount of food that is either given away or sold at a very discounted rate once it passes the “sell by” date. I just finished a bowl of melon and mixed fruit yesterday that had a sell by date of about 2 weeks ago and it was still good.

We are wasteful because we give up on things too easily, do not have the skill to fix them or adapt them to good use. So we end up throwing things away and buying new all the time. It has grown bad enough with home appliances that most of the time it is actually cheaper to buy new than to buy parts to fix something that is not working right. Sometimes we do that with our relationships – something breaks so we throw it away and go looking for a new one. Some of us have done that with God as well. Someday, someone may do it to us.

Israel was broken, many of them were taken away to Babylon, and only a few were left in the land. Those who were left may have seen themselves as the faithful, fortunate ones… but God apparently thought otherwise. He compared them to two baskets of fruit and said that the good fruit represented the future of those in exile, and the bad fruit – spoiled beyond use, represented those left behind.

You see, there is a flip side to this culture of wastefulness. We are also a culture of health. While we may throw out a lot of food, you are far less likely to catch food poisoning from our grocery stores than in other countries with little food regulation. In fact, the majority of our food issues tend to either come from a bad batch, which may have been shipped in from another country, or from mishandling of the food – not from the food itself. We are not perfect, but we set high standards for the quality of food we choose to sell.

So does God. Rather, He has high standards for the type of people He chooses to work with. We may come from bad seeds, and God will continue to work in us to redeem us, but He will not tolerate bad fruit, bad deeds among His people for long before making and intervention – either pruning us and nurturing our roots, or by cutting us down and forcing us to start over again.

What kind of fruit are you today?

How can you encourage those around you to bear good fruit as well?


Flesh and Blood


Flesh and Blood

John 6:52–59 (NRSV)

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

The Jews in the days of Jesus probably choked when He told them they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and rightly so. Eating other people, and their blood in particular was just about the epitome of what it meant to be unclean according to the OT Law. If you take a close look at most of the OT food laws in particular, they forbid the eating of any animal that is either (a) a predator that eats raw flesh or (b) a scavenger that eats dead things. 1 It is forbidden to cook anything with the blood still in it. I believe, along with Jacob Milgrom that this was related to a abhorrence for all things related to death. When you set the food laws alongside the laws regarding funeral practices (i.e. disposal of dead human bodies) a theme begins to arise that to be clean is to be fully alive, while to be unclean is to be tainted by the presence of death in one form or another. Blood, illness, infection, all made a person unclean until they were healed.

Yes, the Jews had plenty of reasons to be freaked out by this comment by Jesus.

But I don’t think we do as Christians today.

I don’t know of a single religious person or group who has ever taken this passage literally. Even the most fundamentalist and literal readers of scripture have to deal with the fact that the body of Jesus is gone to heaven now, meaning, we cannot eat of it here. It is literally impossible to follow this teaching. Everyone starts from a place of symbolism.

Our struggle with this teaching is not about the flesh and blood, as Paul eludes. Instead we struggle with the spiritual implications. I thought Christianity was either learning about, or learning from Jesus! What is this business about eating Him?

I think there are two levels that act in concert with one another, albeit in somewhat disturbing ways. The first is just the idea of the intimacy of eating. I don’t know if the Jews had a scientific notion about how digestion actually worked, particularly to the point of understanding that we are what we eat. I’m confident though that they understood we get our strength from what we eat. What Jesus was proposing was a kind of intimacy – literally giving himself for our strength and sustenance that was unheard of then and is not much more understood today.

The second level goes back to the laws again. Along with avoiding death – especially human death, one of the most forbidden things was human sacrifice. Yet that is exactly what Jesus was. He did not offer anyone else up, He offered Himself up. How can it be ok for Jesus to do it, but not ourselves? Maybe because He was without sin. Maybe He did ask us to follow His example, laying our lives down for the sake of others. I don’t understand all of it. I just know Jesus offered up His all for me and for you, and we cannot live without Him.

What is the most intimate you have ever felt with Jesus?

Where do you need Him most today?

  1. Fish are a possible exception to this rule. 

You Are What You Eat


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?