ABILENE, Texas — Jesus taught important ethical lessons while dining, Emmanuel McCall told participants at Logsdon School of Theology's annual Maston Lectures.
"Some of his most profound lessons were food-related," said McCall, vice president of the Baptist World Alliance.
He pointed to three ethical themes Jesus emphasized as he dined with his disciples and others.
The gospels describe two occasions when Jesus fed large crowds who had gathered to hear him teach and perform miracles, McCall said.
"The ethical imperatives in both instances are similar," he said. "Jesus had compassion on the people. He felt concern and sorrow for their plight. They had left home in search of truth or in need of a blessing. Without food, they would perish."
Compassion is different from pity, sorrow or feeling bad, he said.
"Compassion is an action word," he explained. "Compassion seeks to alleviate the problem, to bring relief, to redress the grievance. Compassion is an ethical response to human situations."
Jesus' compassion contrasted with the disciples' pity, McCall added, noting the disciples made excuses for why they could not feed the hungry people.
"Compassion does not send people away without some resolution to their problem, or at least willingness to work on a solution," he observed.
After taking an inventory of his resources — a boy's meager meal of fish and bread — Jesus "offered what he had for God to bless," McCall said. "Praying and trusting God for our resources is both ethical and spiritual…. Hoarded blessings are unethical. Shared blessings are in response to God's missional intent of loving this world back to God."
Care for others
Jesus once told a story about "a man who loved to give parties," whose intended guests all turned down his invitation, he said. So, the generous host sent his servants into the streets to invite day laborers, hungry people and the poor to participate in his sumptuous banquet.
McCall acknowledged most Christians cite this parable as an evangelistic lesson about sharing the gospel with all kinds of people. But in so doing, "we gloss over the ethical imperatives" of the story, he said.
He also pointed out many Christians dismiss the ethical implications of the parable, warning: "Please don't give me that lame excuse about 'social gospel.' Go and read what Jesus said in Luke 14. Argue with Jesus if you dare. We must not miss the fact that the generous patron wanted everyone included in his banquet."
"Those who cannot care for themselves, society's unfortunates, the social 'misfits'…cannot be helped by remote control," he said. "They have to be touched and nurtured."
After Jesus' resurrection, Peter and some of the disciples returned to their previous occupation, fishing, McCall remembered, noting they fished all night with no luck.
Early in the morning, Jesus prepared breakfast for them on the beach. When they finished eating, Jesus focused his attention on Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus, just as Jesus had predicted.
Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" McCall said.
"The real concern is on the "ethic of singularity," he added, stressing Jesus' straightforward question carried a raft of implications: "Do you love me more than you love these? These fish? These men over whom you function as a leader? These boats? This security of employment? What is the most important thing to you? To what can you or will you give your complete loyalty? Is it necessary to keep a career option alive, or can you turn loose and become singularly focused on me? You can't be the 'Rock' and lead these men to do my biddings with divided loyalties. What is it going to be Peter, me or these?"
Jesus' question about loyalty and focus for Peter also has implications for other Christians, McCall said.
"The lack of an ethic of singular focus cause us…to give Christ 50 percent of ourselves," he insisted. "He wants 100 percent."
Marv Knox is editor of the Baptist Standard.