I’ve had an interesting week.
It began with a large chocolate ice-cream Sunday after church. Deliciously smooth, savory, and sweet. Who doesn’t want some ice-cream in the middle of these 92-degree Miami days?
Wednesday it continued with quite possibly the most exquisite quesadilla ever made. For the record, I doubt a quesadilla has ever been described as ‘exquisite’ before now – but no other word does it justice. The melted cheeses, the steak, the fresh veggies, and of course, the guacamole.
Funny how by just reading about things I ate, I was able to stimulate your desire for them. No?
Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11 NKJV)
Today however, I had a cream cheese sandwich. Simple, but filling. It was ‘Laughing Cow’ cheese- one of my childhood favorites, mostly just because how fun it was (is) to open the little packages. Tonight’s meal wasn’t nearly as interesting as the others…but it did the job. It fed.
Our life often revolves around food. I’m not on Instagram or SnapChat, but how many of your friends post their food pictures daily? I’m sure you are innocent of such nonsense… Ya right dude, I definitely woulda posted that quesadilla in a heartbeat. It woulda been an action shot too – queso dripping. Interesting how we SnapChat away once our food gets to the table. Its like the waiter says “please pull out your phones now” – pay attention next time you go eat somewhere good. We actually gloat about our food. We actually post pictures to say “my food is better than yours”! Can you imagine saying that to someone’s face? Not a friend out with you who ordered something off the <500 calorie menu (thats their mistake…), but imagine saying it to someone who doesn’t refer to eating as a photographable event. Someone that sees food for it’s nutritional worth alone. We need the food for sustinance, daily function, energy, and life. We need things from the food that we cannot point out and hold. ‘Can I have an extra fiber on my fries? And please be generous with the vitamins in my salad bowl’. Food has an important role.
A bit over one year ago I was able to go overseas and spend some time at St John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, a small town outside of London. As they follow the Eastern Orthodox tradition, I (being Coptic – Oriental Orthodox) could attend the services, prayers and meals, but could not participate in the Holy Communion.
The meals there were top notch. They had a 5-Star spread of food for the aghape, from wine to olives. I thoroughly enjoyed eating there- maybe even too much for the Lenten season – with The Ladder of Divine Ascent being read in the background. I know this is not how one talks about visiting a monastic community, but at breakfast, the honey they served was exceptional. It was out of this world (country) good. So good, that I asked for a to-go jar to take home with me from one of the nuns on our last day. Yes, she hooked it up (stupid Americans and their requests…). That honey was unlike any I had tasted before.
During communion in the liturgies there, the choir at the back of the church said 1 verse:
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good (Psalms 34:8 NKJV)
I mean – thats all they said. They kept repeating it. Over and over again. They really stressed to me that 1thingisneeded then, no variation, no cymbals, and no screaming deacons. Just beautiful harmonized singing. And their simple description of the ‘Food’ made me want to have it – just like your reading of my meals earlier.
Imagine, I gave you a spoonful of sugar. You ate it, and I asked you to describe the experience in one word. Quick and easy – you’d say “sweet”, without hesitation. I then give you a spoonful of one-of-a-kind, Romanian-made-honey that I stole from a monastery across the Atlantic. I then (after you enjoy it thoroughly) ask you to describe the experience in one word. Maybe not as easily, you’d say “sweet”. Why not as easily? You’d feel somewhat cornered into it…you couldn’t help but hesitate at using the same word for two completely different experiences.
As it is impossible to verbally describe the sweetness of honey to one who has never tasted honey, so the goodness of God cannot be clearly communicated by way of teaching if we ourselves are not able to penetrate into the goodness of the Lord by our own experience.
St. Basil the Great highlights something huge here. If you had to describe to me the difference between the taste of sugar and the taste of honey, you’d be at a loss for words. You’d struggle with variations of synonymns for ‘sweet’ and then end up telling me to try it for myself. Only 1thingisneeded – knowing that the Lord is ‘good’ by our own experience.
After Philip was picked to be one of the disciples, the very next verse mentions his first attempt at evangelism. I say attempt, because he too experienced this ‘loss for words’. Check it:
The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:43-46 NKJV)
Philip did NOT try to explain to Nathanael what was so ‘good’ about Jesus. Nor did he try to explain the theological intricasies of who Christ is. Instead of trying to describe the Honey, he asked him to come and taste – check out who Jesus is for yourself.
Someone else also did the same. The samaritan woman.
The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Then they went out of the city and came to Him. (John 4:28-30 NKJV)
St Photini (named at her baptism by tradition; Photini = enlightened one) was a woman of the poorest reputation amongst her people. But she did the Instagram thing, the SnapChat thing. She showed off to people the experience she had. Can you imagine what 2015 Photini would be like? Just some random girl? No. Shes the girl your parents would probably tell you to avoid. But she is the one posting #metJesustheChrist #come&see on her selfies, and pictures of her at the well. She started a random girl. She ended “Enlightened”. You & me, that could be us. I could have a whole new reputation? I could be known for something better than my habits, or my past relationships, or my past sexual problems, or my addictions, or my sinfull lifestyle? Absolutely. Lord, enlighten me with Your light. She even went to northern Africa after some of the disciples were martyred and preached Christ at Carthage. We can do the same.
There’s another piece to eating good food that we didn’t mention yet. Sharing.
Not only do I want you to envy my meal. But I want you to ask me to let you try a bite. Come on, be honest. I will ooh and aah at every bite I take, just to get you to say “that looks good, can I try?”. The true foodie, wants everyone to taste what their own experience is. Hands down, my mother makes the best Egyptian food you’ll ever come across. Probably the most important part of her cooking, is the question “how’s it taste?” after your first bite. She is only satisfied by seeing us enjoy what she is sharing, what she knows to be delicious.
We all have heard Photini’s account with meeting Christ at the well. But have you noted the progression of “Jesus” from her point of view before?
- Random Man
- Random Jewish Man – who shouldn’t be talking to her, but oddly, is asking her for water
- Man > Jacob
- Man who can provide this ‘water springing up into everlasting life’ – shes prolly super confused at this point
- A Prophet – after He told her about her husband ordeal
Go through the start of John 4 and underline these stages. Don’t take my word for it. Open His Word, with a pen (not on your phone) and try to figure out these transitions. There’s a mystical component to opening His Word. I must get to know Him through the Bible. With time, and open confession, like she did. Seeking the truth – wanting just a taste of His water. Without learning His Word, I cannot know Him. St Jerome said:
Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.
I loved her progression. This can be a model for me. How do I identify Jesus Christ? AND the longer she spent with Him, the more she grew in this realization. Her experience defined who He is. Do you see the meditation here? Where do I stand? Am I stuck at seeing Him as a great Man, greather than others, or is He one who can provide for me? Will I ever see Him as Messiah? Do I even want to regard Him as greater? Once she recognized He was the Messiah, she ran off, left her waterpot, and told others. She wanted others to come, see, try, experience for themselves. I would not post anything online that was not delicious, that I was not sure you would enjoy. She went public with Him confidently, knowing that He would change lives.
But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. (John 4:32-34 NKJV)
Food is all over Scripture. I’m telling you. God even loves to the sinful glutton in me. His mercy is boundless.
Jesus here mentions food as an act to the disciples. He too is describing and experience that He wants us ALL to taste. To do God’s will. More than food that satisfies the body and the flesh. The food that satisfies Jesus Christ is for me to do the will of God. Lord, make this cross my mind, every minute of my day. Let me at least, after I raise my head from my pillow, set my mind to look for your will in my day. Rather than seeking approval of others with ‘likes’ on my pictures, let me seek Your heavenly approval.
There is something final I want to mention about good food…Think of the nicest restaurant you’ve ever heard of. Would you ever turn down a free meal there? Probably not. Free food = good food, always. Now make it free food at a fancy place and it becomes a huge opportunity. Christ is offering us this free opportunity every day, its not complicated. We just need to show up. Those 5-course-meal places are all about experience – the scents, the lighting, the music, the seats, the menu, the decor – all have nothing to do with taste, but have so much to do with the experience. This is not a cream cheese sandwich that you make at 9 pm before slaving over your blog. This is the real deal. Enough with the fast food of every day life, Karim. Enough with settling for the un-healthy that kills the soul, when He can give me “life-giving” food. I’m tired of settling for the Easy-Mac, the 7-11 hotdog, chips and a soda – roadtrip food. I want more. I want food that is worth showing-off about. That’s Him.
This is what God wants for us: That we come to see for ourselves like Nathanael, that we come to hear his words like Photini, that we come to smell His aroma in our every day life like the Theotokos, that we come to meditate on the depths of His wonders like David, that we come to touch His wounds like Thomas, and that we come to taste the sweetness of His life like all the saints.
He wants for me to experience Him, and to do His will. But just like I cannot describe to you the sweetness of His Honey, no1 can tell me what life in God is like. God doesn’t want visitation, He wants relation. Come, taste and see that the Lord is sweet – for yourself, and remember that 1thingisneeded: experience. Forget Chipotle (I know…blasphemous?!) but don’t take my word for it, come and see that He has way more to offer than we can imagine.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV)