When I was a young, short-term missionary, taking trips with my youth group to Mexico, my youth pastors would always conduct mandatory training sessions for the youth selected to go on the mission trips. There were a lot of topics that were discussed. These topics ranged from how services were conducted, to proper attire, to warnings about absent creature comforts, interpersonal relationships with the team and the nationals, and FOOD.
A verse that every youth pastor worth his salt, preparing a mission team, will trot out is…
“If you enter a town and it welcomes you, eat whatever is set before you.” (Luke 10:8 NLT)
“If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience.” (1 Corinthians 10:27 NIV)
Typically the youth pastor will at this point regale the captive audience with stories of gastronomic challenge; blood sausage covered in flies, the cow tongue in congealed fat, liver cake, insects, fish eyes, black eggs, unrefrigerated mayonnaise with blue mold on top, cobra venom sacks are just a few examples I have heard. I have to say I have told more than a few stories about such things myself. My greatest culinary gauntlet I passed through, was liver. I know there are a lot worse things that people have put in their mouths and chewed with a smile, but for me it was the singular trial that tested my resolve and my mettle, over and over again. Other things may seem bad but it is liver that holds the top slot on my list of least favorite foods. For some reason I have a serious gag reflex when it comes to liver. Just the aroma itself makes me want to puke. Despite this handicap, I have gagged down, with a smile (although strained at times…more specifically all the time and every time), a metric ton of cow liver during the course of my missions career in Ukraine. The funniest (in retrospect) experience that I had with liver in Ukraine was during my first trip.
I was in a village. The local church was conducting a baptism in the river. This celebration is accompanied by a large picnic. Everyone in the church and even many unbelievers bring food and celebrate the public confession of Christ. Some of the local girls approached me and asked if I had gotten any of their cake yet. I told them no and they graciously provided me with what appeared to be an huge slice of 8-layered, chocolate cake with white frosting. (You already know where I am going with this.) With great anticipation, I forked off a huge piece of the cake and as it neared my mouth, my nose picked up a distinct odor. Liver! The frosting…mayonnaise. This was not some Ukrainian chocolate masterpiece waiting to pleasure my palate. This was a cosmic joke. Loki the trickster of old was up to no good. I hesitated, if only for a second. I stuffed my face and punished my tastebuds. The ol’ gag reflex was hard at work. But I manned-up, I put it down, and by God’s good grace, I kept it down. And…I did it all with a smile. Hallelujah!
Why did I do this? Why does any missionary subject themselves to such harrowing edibles? Is it simply, the command of our Lord that solicits such sacrificial obedience? Maybe that is the case for better missionaries than me. Maybe that is the reason for missionaries, who have a faith that I will never know myself. I, however, was unsatisfied with just a command. I had to ask…WHY?!?!? What is so important about eating what is set before you? That’s what I want to know. And that is what I asked of our Lord.
The gracious Lord, who allowed Thomas to touch His side which was pierced and to put his fingers in the holes in His hands, answered my inquiry. He said “Because you are what you eat.” Was this a trite reply? Heavens no. This was not some humorous explanation by an divine gym teacher warning us off indulging in too many Twinkies (thank Heaven). This was a profound answer with deep implications about the human condition and our psycho-social identity.
You see we are what we eat, in the sense that our identity is inexorably tied to what we consume for sustenance. When people offer us food, they are offering us a part of themselves. It doesn’t matter if that food is blue ribbon, Kansas City, Baby-Back Ribs, or a juicy grub dug out from a rotting log in a rain forest. It is themselves they are offering. So what happens when we turn up our noses at such a gift? The tragic reality is that it is not the food we are rejecting as unworthy, but the person, the people group, the sheep lost waiting to be found. To make the situation more appalling, you must understand that when we do such a thing it is not even us who is rejecting the people. It is not us who is deeming them unacceptable, but rather Christ. That’s right Christ is rejecting and hurting those people. Christ is alienating those people from Himself by deafening their ears and hardening their hearts to the reality of what He sacrificed for them on Calvary’s cross. How is this? Because we are Christ to those people. What we do to the least of these, we are doing in His name. We are His ambassadors, we are His voice, we are His hands, His body.
“Eat what is set before you” is not just a suggestion. It is a mandate, with a very poignant reason behind it. Will you arise to the challenge? Or will you stand in opposition to the will of God? Remember Christ drank of a bitter cup for you. He ate your sin. What will you eat for Him?
Never forget… You are what you eat.