I’m a decent cook, but a lousy gardener. The feeling of dirt under my nails drives me crazy, and I can make a plant die by just looking at it. Thankfully, God has blessed me with a husband who is a terrific gardener. Each year he and our girls work to plot our herb and vegetable garden, and by early summer, I have my own little organic produce section from which we can glean. I particularly love the herbs we grow. Beyond the fact that fresh herbs add depth of flavor to food, herbs can give you one of the biggest monetary returns on your gardening investment. Each time I’m in the produce section at the grocery store I make it a point to glance at the little plastic packages of herbs and note the ridiculous price being charged for a few twigs and leaves. Then when I get home, I’ll make a dish that features a lot of those same herbs (pesto, perhaps, or my special Bolognese sauce with oregano and thyme), and savor the dish AND the savings.
A Jewish mother in Jesus’ day could certainly relate. In Deuteronomy 14:22, God actually calls out crops as a quantifiable asset of sorts, from which He required a tithe. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day, being the Pharisees, worked to ensure that they and everyone else kept that requirement, literally down to the leaf. In Matthew 23, as part of Jesus’ truly epic, blistering rebuke, Jesus uses their nitpicky counting of sprigs of mint and dill and cumin as a picturesque example of their myopic focus on a small part of the law, to the neglect of what Jesus calls its’ weightier matters – justice, mercy and faithfulness. In their fixation on a single verse of Scriputure, they had completely missed the bigger picture.
Several millennia later, I wonder if in some parts of the Christian life we’re not still doing the same thing.
Several weeks ago, The Gospel Coalition published a series of articles on how the implications of the gospel might inform the way we look at food in general, and baking in particular. Part personal meditation, part social commentary, the articles were lengthy and broad in scope, albeit not in theological depth. I was personally delighted that a group with the reach of TGC was permitting someone to think out loud on a topic I hold so dear, even as in a few places she did it in a way I was concerned might derail or even halt the conversation, instead of move it forward.
Many comments on the articles themselves were positive, with most people expressing happy surprise that TGC would tackle such a topic. But it was a few comments outside the TGC ecosystem, on Twitter and elsewhere, which really brought me up short. While they could be filed under the general category of “Oh look, another excuse to hate on TGC”, their particulars had to do with the triviality of trying to tack something so mundane, so bourgeois as pastry onto the gospel. “We can eat whatever we want, however we want it!”, they cried. “Acts 10:15! Acts 10:15!!”
Forget about the fact that she was thinking out loud about justice, and mercy, and faithfulness. Suddenly, foodie fundamentalism (as I’ve heard it so named before this) was out, and anti-foodie-nomianism was in.
I’ve tried to show myself from just the first 2 chapters of Genesis, Jesus has always worked through His creation to reveal the mind and heart of its’ Creator, and He has done it in a particularly eloquent and rich way in food. The fact is that the central ordinance of both the Old and New Covenants, which will, in God’s providential timing, both be celebrated around this world this week, involve, not the mandatory recitation of a creed (to the possible disappointment of the Presbyterians), or the performance of some kind of interpretive dance (to the certain relief of the Southern Baptists), but the communal eating of a meal.
If that’s the case, shouldn’t the question be not why we’re suddenly talking so much about the role of food in Christian life, but why in God’s name we’ve said so little? In centering our thought on all the spiritual implications of what God says through food, have we perhaps lost sight of the practical implications, because we are fixating on one verse, and not looking at the bigger picture?
And before the anti-foodie-nomians get out their pitchforks and point them at me, let me be plain. If the central theme of food in the Old Covenant was the Messiah as our true and better food, than He has to be the central theme of New Covenant food conversations as well. We shouldn’t be New Covenant Pharisees – spending more time obsessing over whether our nightly dinner’s balance of food groups and color and use of negative and positive space on the plate appropriately adorns the gospel (although I’m sure there’s a Pinterest page for that), than we do feasting, through Scripture, on the One the gospel is about. Sometimes it will be the choice of the better thing to put down the baking sheet and pick up the Bible.
But when we do, and as we see how often in that Bible Jesus uses food to point to Himself, perhaps it’s worthwhile to at least consider if we, as His disciples, who are called to walk as He walked, ought not to be about doing the same thing – using this central aspect of God’s creation as a means to see Him, and to display Him, and not see what He has given as a mere personal, nutritional, and pleasurable end in itself.