Eating (together) is opportunity

Enjoying Mom’s Sunday lamb shank prepared in her signature sweet and sour honey mustard sauce with oven baked potatoes and organic veggies fresh from the garden awakens memorable reminiscences.

Prior to the actual lunch, I would daydream: “What’s for pudding?”

Was the prospect of concluding lunch with something sugary sweet enough to keep this teenager interested in table-talk? I’m not so sure. I struggled to keep up with politics and stories regarding family shenanigans. There had to be more. Could it have been the authentic space of belonging? Or unconditional acceptance? Maybe it was continual mercy and forgiveness amidst mistakes? Or possibly all of the above.

Sitting, reclining opposite another human being, acknowledging their existence. No rush. No agenda. Purely old school chit-chat sharing life and fellowship.

Eating is as spiritual as it gets. Even Jesus’ life bears testimony to this. Whether teaching or travelling, Jesus enjoyed sharing a meal with people. He seized every opportunity to break bread with friends and strangers – especially strangers others didn’t approve of. At the table Jesus showed no partiality but rather grace by inviting an all-inclusive crowd – sinner, saint, self-righteous servant and slave.

Jesus knows the human heart. When eating, walls come crumbling down. We tend to be more honest about struggles. We become ‘real’, and as the comfort of filled tummies builds bridges to the foreigner(s) across the table, these sustainable relationships bring about healing.

I experienced something of this profound healing in October this year. In Hillbrow I broke bread with a young adult from the MES Youth Enrichment Programme. I’ve seen her grow in confidence as she discovered her true identity in Christ. Whilst fellowshipping we took time reflecting on the year – the ups and the downs. Then small-talk took its turn. I could sense it coming. The bridge was there. Now both of us had to cross …

We discussed white privilege and supremacy. My attempt at vulnerability fell miles short of her bold courage. “I struggled to talk to white people. I’d always been afraid. Of what exactly, I don’t know. For the first time in my life I see myself as an equal.”

I was at a loss for words.

This truth will forever change how she values not only herself but her race and culture.

This is what Jesus still does through a shared meal – restoration, liberation and freedom.

May the church continue to serve meals – and not only serve but intentionally share their presence, wholeheartedly.

Rev Erick du Toit is a minister of the Dutch Reformed congregation Melville. His ministry in the urban context in Johannesburg is mostly done in English.