|Urgolino di Nerio, The Last Supper|
I wonder have you been following Masterchef recently? I have, fifty contenders, foodies from all walks of life, desperate to impress the judges with their culinary creations and become a chef. Why, oh why, do they show it during Lent!?
If you, like me, like these kinds of programmes, then now’s a great time of year – Great British Menu (our own Ian Orr was robbed!), Paul Hollywood’s Bread if you prefer baking, and Come Dine With Me, my guilty pleasure, is never off the air ... you could say as a society we are obsessed with food – I know I am.
It’s Holy Week, Jesus’ last week before he is crucified. And he has just entered Jerusalem after a party at Lazarus, Mary and Martha's house in Bethany. He’s spent some quality time with friends. Now, it’s time to prepare for another Feast, Passover – the venue, the food, the wine, the guest list ...
Lots of stories about Jesus are loosely situated around food, but not in the obsessive cheffy way we drool over it today. Jesus seemed to be where the food was – well he was fully human, wasn’t he! – in fact he had a bit of a reputation among the Pharisees for being a glutton and a party-goer.
But Nigella or Gordon Ramsay didn’t write the gospel accounts – (thank goodness, or there might be a lot of swearing!). Imagine if they had – a duo of poisson Saint Pierre served with rustic stone-baked flatbreads – or as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John call it: five loaves and two fish!
No, the gospel writers skip over the details of the menu and concentrate on Jesus’ encounters with people. In Bible times, it wasn’t about organic, or slow-cooked, fusion or authentic, medium-rare or with this sauce or that. Food brought people together. That’s why Jesus was always at parties and feasts – to be with people (I’m sure he enjoyed the food too).
Jesus spent a fair bit of his last week following the party at Lazarus’s house preparing for the Passover festival. If we fast-forward to the Last Supper on the Thursday night, there Jesus is, the night he was betrayed, surrounded by main dishes, and side dishes and cups – and people.
And who’s in the position of the honoured guest at supper? It’s the very one who Jesus knows will betray him, Judas. We can work it out from the gospel accounts, based on who was beside who, who spoke to who, and the fact that Judas was the first to sop, i.e. to dip his bread.
Why would Jesus have Judas near him, let alone in the place of guest of honour at the table?!
Why invite him, let him eat with him, in the first place?
Why show hospitality to a betrayer, one who would treat him so callously, and hand him over for 30 rotten pieces of silver? Would that not turn your stomach?
We can probably all think of somebody who has wronged us, someone we would rather not eat with. Someone – in our family, at work, in church even, that we would make a point of not sitting beside. Of not engaging in conversation. Someone that would not be on our guest list.
Jesus in his last week before he is crucified, spends times eating and drinking with friends – and with his betrayer. We don’t know the menu, it’s not that important really, but we know as Jesus served all his disciples, it was in a spirit of love, personal sacrifice and reconciliation, with a willingness to embrace even his betrayer.
I don’t know how Lent has been going for you. I’ve not been completely successful at sticking to my Lenten vows, I get too tempted when I watch Masterchef to enjoy nice food and drink. But there’s still time to prepare as we come to Easter.
We might be buying lamb and some nice wine and lots and lots of chocolate. And we need to prepare our hearts, too – that’s even more important!
We’ve all been wronged, and it can be so hard to follow Jesus’ example and love our enemies. It’s far easier to avoid them and pretend we don’t have any enemies.
Who do I need to have a chat with over a cup of tea? Who do I need to invite round for lunch, or go for a drink with and have an honest heart-to-heart?
It’s easy to hate people we don’t sit with at a table. It’s much, much harder when we invite our enemies to come and sit beside us.