Food has an irreplaceable role in providing for human wellbeing, not just nutritional health but social, spiritual and psychological health too. Jesus did not just associate with outcasts and sinners out of sympathy and compassion, tellingly, he ate with them too, and on a regular basis, celebrating life with them in a way that restored them to community and to a sense of their own value. When Jesus invited himself to the home of the tax gatherer Zacchaeus (Luke: 19), it was surely to dine and share hospitality and through that act he restored Zacchaeus to a new relationship within his community.
Such actions might have drawn scorn from the righteous who considered Jesus a drunkard and a glutton. However, in sharing with outcasts, the poor and the unclean he shared “the contamination of their soul” and they proved to be transforming moments. When we take time to attend to each other’s needs through offering hospitality, we give worth to each other and celebrate life together. Where better to do this than at the table?
The Eucharist or Holy Communion is the most eloquent expression of food’s value in human interaction. Here Jesus takes the things of the earth and articulates one of the deepest manifestations of community that it is possible for people to experience. In the act of sharing bread and wine all are provided for and none are sent away empty handed. People serve one another and the “Festival of the Earth” is prefigured in which sufficiency replaces excess and justice and community supplants injustice and division. All of this is made possible by the appropriate sharing of and respect for the produce of the earth’s bounty.