“Anything to Eat Here?”
There are 2,550 questions in the Bible, give or take a few. What questions come to your mind?
We normally think of the Bible as full of answers, but there are many questions there also. The pivotal scenes in the Bible turn on questions. In the first story of human encounter, that which takes place in the Garden of Eden, it is questions that drive the narrative. The serpent says, “Did God tell you not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden?” Then the creator comes looking for the man and asks, “Where are you?” Other questions follow: “Did you eat of the forbidden tree?” and “What is this you have done?”
Later, the two brothers Cain and Abel had an episode. God says, “Where is Abel your brother?” to which Cain replies, in one of the most famous of all biblical questions, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And then God asks, “What have you done?”
This use of questions is at the center of the biblical story. Questions function as the signposts on our Christian journey. Questions frame the entire narrative of the life of Jesus. Questions are the tools of the spiritual director, the marriage counselor, and the pastor and preacher.
Questions help us read this resurrection story today. Questions help us interpret this resurrection appearance of Jesus. Three questions in particular leap from the pages of our text and guide our thinking today.
First, Jesus the Risen Lord asks his disciples, “Why are you troubled?” The question has a pastoral tone. Then, with a tinge of judgment, Jesus asks, “Why do you doubt what you see and feel?” Finally, full of the humanity that we treasure so much in Jesus the Lord, he asks, “Is there something to eat?”
That is the question for us today. “Anything to eat around here?” I am already thinking of the question that will follow the benediction, “Where shall we get something to eat today?” I have a suggestion about that! But I invite you to go with me down this interstate of interrogation. I am sure it will lead us to a good gospel place.
First, I want to rehearse the life of Jesus with a focus on the questions that frame his life and ministry.
At his birth, some travelers from afar came looking for the One, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. They came with the question, “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” This question prefigures everything, and at the end of his ministry, Jesus was asked by Pilate, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
As a precocious kid, Jesus went his own way. He found the scholars and teachers of the Law and started his own conversation. It was probably a question-and-answer session, but the text does not say. One question that was surely asked but is nowhere in the printed text: “Where is Jesus?” or “Have you seen Jesus” and certainly, “You know what I’m going to do when I get my hands on that boy?”
The questions that are in the story are these. When Mary and Joseph find Jesus, they ask, “Why have you done this to us?” His double-barrel reply is: “Why were you even looking for me? Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house?”
He was talking about the temple of Jerusalem, of course. But the Bible says only this: they all went together back to their home in Nazareth. Then, this summary statement: Mary pondered all these things. What things? The questions and the answers. She treasured all these things in her heart.
You can think of other questions that push along the life of Jesus.
To tell the story, Mark uses 71 questions. Chapter 8 begins with this sentence: “In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, Jesus called his disciples and said to them, “How many loaves of bread do you have?”
Luke includes 115 questions. Here is one, in chapter 6. “One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisee said, ‘Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?’” Jesus responded with two questions of his own, but neither surpass that question of the pharisees in illustrating the smallness of spirit, the meanness of motive that overtakes so many religious people. To be a pharisee today is to ask questions like this of people who are just trying to find something to eat.
Matthew has 137 questions in his gospel record. That is more than five questions per chapter, including perhaps the greatest of all stories. “When the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him. The king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. For I was hungry, and you gave me food….’ Then the righteous will respond, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food?’ The king will answer, ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these in my family, this wide, wonderful family of human beings, you did it to me!’”
And John? Want to guess how many questions are in this gospel? One hundred fifty questions!
The first spoken words recorded in this gospel is the question addressed to Jesus, “Who are you?” The very last story John tells, in what we now call chapter 21, includes nine questions. They are out fishing for something to eat. “Have you caught anything?” Jesus asks. “Throw your nets on the other side.” Which they did, and caught more fish than they needed—153, the text says. Jesus said, “Let’s eat breakfast.” Then Jesus, there around the breakfast campfire, asks Simon Peter the famous question, “Do you love me?” He asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Each time, when Simon Peter said, “Yes, of course” Jesus said to him, and says to us, “Feed my sheep.”
The gospel of John, in that narrative in chapter 21, includes this sentence: “This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”
Our text for today may be the first of those three appearances. Luke chapter 24. Two disciples encountered Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was the afternoon of that first resurrection day, that first Easter. Jesus appeared, unrecognized, and walked with those two disciples and talked with them and, surprise, surprise, ate with them! They recognized him while they were eating!
Have you noticed this focus on food that runs through all this material?
These two disciples ran back to Jerusalem. Verse 35 reads like this: “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said, ‘Shalom aleichem.’ Peace be with you.” Then he asks three questions. First, “Why are you frightened?” Who wouldn’t be frightened and confused and full of questions. They had attended the burial of their friend Jesus, and now Jesus stood right there. I think that is a bit scary, don’t you?
Then, Jesus asked, “Why are you doubting?”
I know this: I would have been skeptical. I am skeptical of a lot of religion. I am skeptical of much that passes for spirituality. From the Pentecostal to the Roman Catholic, I am skeptical. I am skeptical about appearances of the Virgin Mary, about the voices and visions that some people claim, about the healings of hands and the lengthening of legs that was so popular a few decades ago. We need a good dose of skepticism, don’t you think? People make all kinds of claims. Evangelists who live in five thousand square foot homes and take home salaries in the millions of dollars claim God told them to buy a new jet for their travel around the world. I doubt this. I am skeptical. I’m not giving a nickel to that kind of religion.
But when Jesus asks his third questions, I find my kind of religion. “Is there anything here to eat?”
This is my question. This is your question. This is the question of people around the world. Is there anything to eat?
This speaks to the humanity of the risen Lord. This illustrates his concern for the practical things of life. But more than that, this pushes us into true religion.
Jesus ate with his people, saints and sinners. It was table fellowship that was at the center of his spiritual life. It was table fellowship that was at the center of that first Christian movement. Acts chapter two verse 46 reads like this: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people.” That is the earliest description of a church. Eating together with glad and generous hearts, praising God. There were a joyful, hopeful band of brothers and sisters.
This focus on food is at the center of the Christian life because it is at the center of human life. “Give us today our daily bread.” This is the prayer we pray, and this is the prayer we answer when other people pray it. We enlarge the table and invite all to eat: the saint and the sinner, the devout and the doubter, the rich and the poor, the fat and the thin, the blessed person and the broken person, you and me.
In the Meetinghouse this week, I interviewed the Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum. We talked about the 12 trips he has made to Poland. It changed his life because of how the Catholic Christians of Poland welcomed the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine. Three million Ukrainian refugees streamed across the boarder to escape the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But there is not a single refugee camp in Poland. Why? Because the Polish Christians welcomed these refugees into their country, into their homes, to their dinner tables. It was the practice of Christian hospitality. Refugees came asking the question of Jesus, “Is there any food here?” And the Polish believers answered, “Yes, pull up a chair and have some dinner.”
Yes, I know some people think it is Holy Communion that is at the center of things. Yes, it is the primary ritual of Christian worship and fellowship around the world. Yes, we will gather next week in this very place to share the bread and the cup. It is a symbolic meal. It represents Jesus, the bread of life. It symbolizes Jesus, broken for us and distributed to us. It reminds us of Jesus who gave his life that we might live abundantly.
But it also reminds us that at the center of all things is the question, “Any food here?” and the answer of the gospel, “Dinner is served.”