Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM
Have you ever noticed how much time Jesus spends eating and drinking with his friends in the Gospels? Many of his most famous miracles revolve around food. Even when He’s not doing miracles, He’s often attending feasts, having meals, or feeding people. What can we learn from these encounters, be they mundane or miraculous? Here are three simple truths we learn from this investigation:
- Jesus cares about our physical needs and had needs of his own
- Jesus used food to teach spiritual truths
- Jesus is all about relationships – often through a shared meal
These may not be ground-breaking, mind-blowing revelations, but if you think about them you can see how important they are.
Food and Physical Necessity
There is nothing more basic to life than the need to eat and drink. Even at the simplest level, we can understand why so much of Jesus’ time was spent around food. But what does this say about Jesus? No need to overthink it – this tells us quite simply that He was human. He had needed just like the rest of us. He needed and even enjoyed, food.
While so much of Jesus’ ministry shows us that Jesus was, indeed, fully God, the fact that He got hungry confirms that His body functioned just the same as any other man. But what we see is not Jesus being served a kingly portion as He clearly deserved. Instead, we often see Jesus serving the food. On several occasions, He even feeds multitudes of people.
So we also learn that Jesus cares about the physical needs of others. He is lowly and compassionate, not above the common concerns of normal people. You might expect the greatest spiritual leader of all time to spend his life meditating in a tower, detached from the dirt and filth of the world. Instead, we have the God who showed up, who became one of us, and not just in appearance. He cares for us because He loves us and because He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, as we read in Hebrews 4:15.
While Jesus cares about the physical needs of those He loves, He clearly prioritizes spiritual needs. So, while we see Him feeding multitudes, we also see Him going without food on many occasions. Consider the most obvious example of His fast in the wilderness where He ate nothing at all for 40 days. Or the time in John 4:33-34 where His disciples were concerned that Jesus was hungry and asked themselves “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus responded, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”
Still, Jesus was a master teacher, and he regularly used food imagery in His sermons. In John 6:35, Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life. Whoever eats this bread, He said, will never hunger, and whoever believes in Him will never thirst. While saying this, Jesus referred back to the time when God miraculously provided bread from heaven to keep the wandering Israelites alive in the wilderness. He is the true bread that comes down from heaven to give life.
When Jesus established the New Covenant, He gave us the sign of the Covenant, which is the bread and wine. These are His flesh and blood, as he tells us in Luke 22:19-20. Again and again, Jesus used the most basic elements of life, food, and drink, to teach the most profound truths.
Food and Relationships
Perhaps one of the best reasons that we see Jesus so involved with food is that He was so involved with people. Relationships were His priority. As He spent time with people He found that their needs frequently centered around food and drink. Consider the first recorded miracle of Jesus, the changing of water into wine. Jesus did not perform this miracle to amaze the crowds. He did it because of His love for His mother, and because of His relationship with the family at the wedding.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus dines with people in order to establish a relationship with them. In Mark 2 we find Jesus having dinner with tax collectors and sinners. It’s not that Jesus likes a good party; He wanted to reach those who needed Him most. Similarly, in Luke 7 he eats with Pharisees. And of course in Luke 22, Jesus prepares the Last Supper and shares the meal with the Twelve right before His crucifixion. He does this to spend time with them, converse with them, get to know them, and let them know Him. It is the very heart of relationship, and Jesus finds many opportunities to engage with people He loves while sitting around a dinner table.
Jesus was not simply a man, but he was fully human. We see this clearly in his relationship to food. He was hungry on many occasions, so He sympathizes with our physical needs. But Jesus also knew that such needs are temporary, while that which is spiritual is eternal. So, as a master teacher, He used the physical (the temporal) to teach eternal truths. And of course, He built relationships with His friends, disciples, and even enemies while sharing a meal. Jesus’ relationship with food was not complicated; in fact, it was quite typical. But what we can learn from His interactions with something so common is truly profound.