We've been studying John chapter 6 the past couple of weeks in worship. It's known as the bread of life discourse. In this chapter, Jesus addresses both physical hunger (the feeding of the multitudes) and spiritual hunger (the bread of God).
For as often as we eat, and as often as eating and food appear in the Bible, it's my impression that eating is not something we talk all that much about as Christians. Put "prayer" in the Amazon search engine, and you'll come up with several hundred thousand books on the subject. Put "eating" or "food" along with "Bible" or "Christianity" or even "spirituality" in the same search engine, and you'll come up with at most about a thousand books. Some of these are for individuals struggling with unhealthy eating habits and others with some pretty peculiar premises (eat the foods of the Bible for health). At best, this topic usually gets placed under one of two umbrellas: hospitality or social justice, but rarely as a subject on its own.
Perhaps there is good reason: Jesus says, "Don't work for food that doesn't last, but for the food that endures for eternal life..." (Jn. 6.27). He seems to be implying that our concern should be for spiritual or eternal matters; leading to the conclusion that earthly food must be of temporal value at best. Combine this with the theological weight of a sacramental understanding of the Lord's Supper, and maybe it's no wonder we don't think about food much beyond what will we bring to the next potluck.
I've heard it said that if a person is physically hungry, he can't be expected to pay attention to their spiritual hunger. At first, this seems to make sense: Jesus first fed the 5,000, and then taught them about more important things: the bread of life. But on the other hand, I've also heard it said that it's only the hungry who come to know Jesus (perhaps a good example would be the unnamed rich man and Lazarus). A good reminder that formulaic approaches to a relationship with Jesus typically fall short.
Maybe it's enough to say: food/eating matters. It mattered to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness enough that they came to believe that God not hears our cries for help, but answers them. Jesus was able to use this religiously significant story to teach his followers how he was both the same as (a gift from God) and different from (eternal rather than temporal) manna. Food/eating mattered to Peter and Cornelius, and the Holy Spirit was able to use this shared meal of what would have been unusual food for Peter to teach them that God does not show partiality to one group over another (Acts 10).
We're going to continue on with this discourse for the next couple of weeks. Do you have your own favorite food story (Biblical or otherwise) that informs your faith? What does that story teach you about the love of God?