Food and eating and celebrations were central to Jesus’ life (after all, he as accused of being a glutton because he went to too many parties) and his teaching. Food shows up in many of his stories, teachings and parables.
One of my favorite is in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-2, 11-32)
1Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”…
11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’20So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[[24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31” ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “
My small group has spent pretty much the past month reflecting upon this parable. I think there are few teachings that capture the character and heart of God better than this one.
I love that the culminating seen is a dinner celebration — the best meat, the best ingredients (local and organic!), the best everything!
The Father declares: we had to celebrate and be glad!
Note the imperative. Not that it was a good idea… not that it was justified… but that joy compels it!
Here is something else that has really been striking me about this passage lately… it doesn’t go the way I think it should!
Don’t get me wrong… I want the father to accept the son back. I am totally into that kind of grace. But I feel like the follow up should be, “Yes, of course I welcome you back! And tomorrow we will sit down and draw up a game plan for how you are going to get your life together. We will draw up a budget, and then identify some ways you can re-earn some trust and ways you can pay me back… this will be a learning experience for you.”
And in our heart-of-hearts, I think that is what most of us think God is doing with us.
But it is not. His grace is lavish, unqualified and with no strings attached. There is no speech or sense of “at least he will learn from this”. The only thing we learn is the heart and character of our Father… he is crazy with love!
Just rest in that reality.
So often we think that it is grace that saves, but works that sanctifies.
But the message of Jesus is that IT IS ALL GRACE!
I am still trying to get my head around that reality… and I love it.