By Ma. Marilou Ibita
Marilou Ibita holds an MA in Religious Studies from the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies, Manila, and is presently completing another MA in Religious Studies, majoring in Biblical Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, Belgium. She teaches New Testament Studies at the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies, the Maryhill School of Theology, and St. Vincent School of Theology, all in Manila, Philippines.
One of my students once commented that her most striking learning in the New Testament class was: "The Eucharist is an experience of dining with Jesus! I have forgotten that it is a remembering of the Last Supper!" While I acknowledge that beautiful treatises and many other reflections have been written on the Eucharist, it is also true that the Eucharist’s understanding as a meal is sadly neglected. Hence, what I would like to offer here is a retracing of a particular picture of Jesus at table from the perspective of the Third Gospel or the Gospel according to Luke through the lens of both literary (narrative) and historical (redaction and social science criticism) approaches. I will also consider the relevance of the Eucharist in my own experience as a Filipina, living in a third world country, since I am becoming more and more convinced of the similarities that our Filipino food culture has in relation with other (especially Asian) nations. I would like to offer this distinct portrait of Jesus to others to relate to their own food culture, in the hope that it will yield results that are exciting and relevant to their own cultural context.
A Foretaste of Filipino Food Culture and Meal Experience and the Problem of Hunger in the Philippines
"Kain tayo!" or "Salo na!" ("Let us eat!") is, I believe, the most common daily greeting in the Philippines. Whether addressed to a friend or a stranger, it depicts the deep and very apparent food culture of the people. Filipino life is punctuated by table fellowship from womb to tomb. This is evident in both simple and special celebrations. The birth of a child is marked by the food cravings of the mother during pregnancy. Baptisms, weddings, or religious professions and priestly ordination are a misa (mass) to mesa (table) affair. Graduations (from kindergarten to college) are also fêted, just as the first salary is celebrated with a blowout of food and drinks. This is not to mention the feasts of patron saints in every barrio, birthdays, family and other kinds of reunions and most importantly, the Christmas holidays. Even death is punctuated by meals eaten in solidarity with the grieving family either during the wake, after nine days, or forty days later, or on the death anniversary. The Philippines truly has a food culture.
The degree of relationship among table fellows is also palpable in the way people treat each other at table. This ranges from ibang tao (outsiders) to hindi ibang tao (insiders). A study by Carmen Santiago on the language of food sharing in the middle class town of Bulacan reflects this view and can help enlighten this custom (Santiago 1976:133-39). The Filipino map of personal hierarchy is part of the interpersonal relations that govern the way Filipinos deal with their fellow human beings. The goal is pakikipagkapwa (humanness at its highest level). In pakikipagkapwa, one arrives at the level where the kapwa (other) is sarili na rin(oneself).1 The concept of kapwa is based on the concept of the shared inner self (Enriquez 1994:3) and not just smooth interpersonal relationships (Lynch 1978:1-21). As such, it is more concerned with the recognition of shared identity, an inner self that is shared with others and thus it is the only concept that embraces both the categories of outsiders (ibang tao) and the insiders (hindi ibang tao) [Enriquez, 3]. Returning to the interpersonal relationship depicted in table fellowship, one observes that it is divided into two categories concerning interpersonal relationships: ibang tao (Outsider Category) and hindi ibang tao (One of Us Category). The ibang tao Category has three levels: pakikitungo (level of amenities), pakikibagay (level of conforming) and pakikisama (level of adjusting). The hindi ibang tao Category consists of two levels:pakikipagpalagayang-loob (level of mutual trust) and pakikiisa (level of fusion, oneness and full of trust). These levels build upon each other. There is a progression of relationships that is evident in the quality of relationships expressed in the meals, with pakikitungo as the shallowest and pakikiisa as the deepest. The visitor moves from being a guest towards becoming a host and then, finally, to being a servant at table when the deepest level of relationship has been achieved.
The Catechism for Filipino Catholics affirms the importance of table-fellowship among the Filipinos. It lists five essential traits of Filipinos’ self-identity and one of these is meal (salu-salo, kainan) orientedness (CBCP 1997 nos. 34-44). The recent Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Pastoral Letter on Filipino Spirituality affirms the observation that meals, especially festive meals, play a significant role in the lives of Filipinos. This is surprising to foreigners who know that the nation is one of the third world countries beset by poverty. The importance of the welcoming attitude expressed especially through meal sharing is a big thing, even among the poor who offer their konting nakayanan (literally, "the little they can afford," which is the best thing that they can offer).2
The same pastoral letter mentions the images of Jesus that are dear to Filipinos. It includes the Santo Niño(Christ Child), the Nazareno (Black Nazarene), the Santo Entierro (The Body of the Dead Jesus) and theKristong Hari (Christ the King) [CBCP 1999 no. 75]. It is a wonder that the image of Jesus at the Last Supper, which is found in most Filipino dining rooms3 (and even at the stand of coffins), is not included in the list. I firmly believe that the picture of Jesus at table is one of the most important albeit unrecognized Christological images that expresses the spirituality of the Filipinos.
Yet even with such a strong food culture and the penchant for the image of the Last Supper, the present economic and political system of the country caters for globalization in total disregard for the values of sharing that is inherent to Filipinos, specifically a sharing between rich and poor that can be translated into policies which will assure that all, not just some, have food to eat at table. It is no wonder, then, that more and more Filipinos suffer from hunger everyday. It is disheartening to note that of "the 840 million people still suffering from chronic hunger, over 50% live in areas dependent on rice production for food, income and employment."4 This is true not only for Filipinos:
While the number of chronically undernourished people in ASEAN has dwindled rapidly between 1971 and 2002, the FAO noted that some 66 million people or 13% of the region’s population still go to bed hungry every day.5 (emphasis added)
Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports on The State of the World’s Children. Child nutrition is a good indicator of present affairs (Bellamy 2002). Specific data state that 28% of Filipino children under five years old suffer moderate to severe malnutrition, 6% of them are physically wasting away and, 30% of them suffer from moderate to severely stunted growth (Bellamy, 90).
Several non-governmental organizations reported to the United Nations on the current negative food situation in the country, and made this observation:
In summary, the Philippine State failed to ensure nutritionally adequate food for many of its citizens especially children and women. Malnutrition has remained a problem in the Philippines, affecting a high proportion of the country’s population, the most prevalent being protein energy malnutrition, vitamin A deficiency, iron deficiency, anemia, and iodine deficiency. The national socio-economic environment has continued to employ the "business as usual" or more of the same approach in response to the malnutrition problem.6
So what do we do now? Do we just let some die of hunger, while others eat lavishly and nonchalantly throw food away? Both groups of people join together in the breaking of the bread at Eucharist. It is interesting to note that 2004 was the UN’s International Year of Rice. It also celebrated the 48th International Eucharistic Congress with the theme, "The Eucharist: Light and Life of the New Millennium" held in Guadalajara, Mexico, from 10-17 October 2004.
A critical and radical consideration of the Lukan Jesus at table is a strong resource towards a more Eucharistic spirituality that is rooted in the Filipino food culture and will also be responsive to the reality of hunger in the Philippines and other third world countries. Having considered the Filipino meal experience and food culture, let us now turn to the Third Gospel and its particular image of Jesus at table.
The Third Gospel and Its Image of Jesus’ Table Fellowship
The Third Gospel has a very strong food motif. There are a lot of scenes where table fellowship is highlighted. In fact, in contrast to Mark,7 Matthew, and John, it is Luke who most often depicts Jesus in different roles at table (Navone 1970:11-37, Smith 1987:613-30, Moessner 1989:284-85, La Verdiere 1994, Durken 1997:372-75). The Third Gospel is indeed replete with meal scenes in which Jesus is:
(1) described at table with various kinds of people (Lk 5:27-39; 7:36-50; 9:10-17; 10:38-42; 11:37-54; 14:1-24; 19:1-10; 22:14-38; 24:13-35; and 24:36-43).
(2) telling tales about table-fellowship (5:34-35; 12:35-48; 13:23-30; 14:7-24; 15:11-32; 16:19-31, and 22:27).
Nevertheless, the reverse is also true. Moxnes has noted the many references to famine or hunger in the Third Gospel. There is a contrast between those who have plenty and those who have nothing, and instances where God overturns the situation of lack of food and feeds the hungry (Moxnes 1988:86).8 In Moxnes’ point of view, food and meals are important for the Lukan Gospel because food is necessary for life. Food consumed at meals is part of social interaction and functions as an effective metaphor for the banquet in the kingdom of God (emphasis added) [Moxnes, 87]. For him, what is characteristic of the Third Gospel is that, "Luke sees the use of food from the point of view of the ‘common people’: it ought to benefit everybody in the community. Thus sharing the food in the form of hospitality becomes an important theme for Luke" (Moxnes, 127). Jesus’ meals serve not to create distinctions but to bridge these distinctions and be more inclusive, since meals are expressions of hospitality (Moxnes, 88).
If we pay particular attention to the Gospel according to Luke, we will notice that this mindful use of these meal scenes seems to be one of the favorite literary devices employed by the evangelist to get his message across (Smith 1987:613). According to Smith, this is "the symposium motif of ‘table talk,’ whereby Jesus teaches while at meals. This was what the philosophers often did in ancient literature" (Smith 2003:253).
A Picture of Jesus at Table in the Third Gospel
In order to gain greater insights into the topic, let us now have a brief look at the Lukan use of the symposium motif, the meal scenes, by focusing on Jesus’ role9 in them. While the table-fellowship scenes can be viewed through different prisms, the main concern here is to see how Jesus is characterized at table in the whole Lukan story:
During his ministry in Galilee, Jesus’ role at table begins with his acceptance of an invitation to a feast in the house of Levi, whom Jesus earlier called to be his follower (5:27-39). Afterwards, he consented to the request of Simon the Pharisee to eat with him (7:36-50). With even these two examples, Jesus’ dining practice is shown to be inclusive of all types of people since he agrees to the requests of these two persons who represent the two poles of society portrayed by the Third Gospel: the unclean (embodied by Levi, a tax collector in behalf of the Roman government and as such, considered to be a sinner) and the clean (Simon, a Pharisee and a follower of the details of the Law). As a result, even at the outset of Jesus’ whole ministry, one can notice that he is invited to be their guest and that Jesus grants their petitions. It is no surprise, then, that even after just these two examples, "this generation" regarded Jesus as "a glutton and a drunkard" (Lk 7:34).10 It would appear, though, that those who explicitly invited Jesus at this point in time did not have anyovert motive against him yet. Even if the scribes and the Pharisees murmured against Jesus during his banquet with Levi, and Simon did question the way he related with the woman who anointed him (7:39), there is no report so far of a direct resistance against Jesus. This shows the inclusive character of Jesus’ meals; he was everyone’s guest. This same characteristic is also highlighted by the way he changed his role from being a guest to being a host. When he fed the multitude at the end of his Galilean ministry (9:10-17), he gave food to a motley crowd that were outside the confines of the Jewish purity system. There was no right company, noright food to eat, no right manner of eating that food, no right place or even the right time (Neyrey 1991:271-304; 1991a:361-87).
As Jesus carries on his ministry by journeying towards Jerusalem (9:51), it can be seen again that his role at table reverts to that of being a guest of different kinds of people, once more breaking the barriers set by their culture and religion. He is the guest of women (10:38-42), of Pharisees (11:37-54; 14:1-24), and of tax collectors (19:1-10). It is noticeable that at the end of his public ministry he chooses to be a guest and he made this an occasion for all to murmur against him by inviting himself into Zacchaeus’ home (19:7). His host is considered a sinner by the people because he is described to be a chief tax collector and rich (19:7). The text forms an obvious inclusion with the banquet and with the tax collector Levi (5:21). It looks as though Jesus’ experience of being a guest molds the way he conducts himself during the meals. Wherever Jesus experiences hospitality, he also uses it in his teachings. When he is fittingly received, Jesus upholds the person (including 10:41—even if there is a correction of the manner of Martha’s hospitality in contrast to the approved behavior of Mary; as well as 19:5, 9). Whenever there is a faulty reception, it paves the way for teachings and admonitions (11:39-52; 14:2-24). However, one must take notice as well that, in distinction with those in Galilee, the people who go against Jesus and his specific manner of table-fellowship in his ministry along the journey are described as more and more evidently antagonistic towards him in their thoughts, words, and deeds (11:53-54; 14:1; 15:1-2 which occasioned the three-fold "lost-and-found-therefore-feasting" parables in 15:3-32) as he progresses towards the city of Jerusalem.
Jesus’ role as host, shaped by his preceding experiences of being a guest during his ministry along the journey, is highlighted in his short ministry and stay in Jerusalem. Just as he ends the Galilean ministry by providing food for all (the feeding of the multitude, 9:10-17), in the same way he ends his ministry in Jerusalem, and more importantly his entire public ministry, by providing food at the Farewell Meal (22:14-38). Nevertheless, while Jesus was host to a motley group of people in Galilee, this time, those included in the Farewell Meal are from the in-group itself (22:14). Ironically, while he was in Galilee, the guests that he fed generally were not opposed to him; yet, here he includes in the meal the one who will betray him who connives with his antagonists (22:21, 22:3-6); those who oppose his teachings (22:24-27); and the one who will deny knowing him (22:34).
The Farewell Meal, it is to be noted, took place at a time when Jesus faced extreme danger. He chose at this moment to continue his meal practice. Jesus also included in this meal his betrayer and those who will deny and abandon him. Jesus, then, stretched his role at table towards the inconceivable. He redefined the meaning of being a host by offering the bread and the wine to his tablemates as his body and blood, his very life spent in what we may rightly call a meal-ministry, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God (22:14-38). In addition, even as Jesus defied the way roles at table have been culturally accepted, he now introduces one that is totally mind-blowing which his followers must take upon themselves: to occupy Jesus’ place at table is to be a servant at table (22:22-27). He showed this not only by his words, but also by his deeds. His position as host, is re-defined by his posture of being the one who serves the food, the servant, who gives his very own body and blood. This movement from being host-to-servant and his self-offering as food makes the Farewell Meal the meal par excellence in the Luke’s version of the gospel.
After the resurrection, the two disciples in Emmaus recognized Jesus when they were sharing a meal. When they invited the unrecognized Jesus to be their guest, Jesus was revealed to them at table as a host-and-servant who gave them food (24:28-35). This shifting role of Jesus at table is further established by the way he convinced his disciples in Jerusalem that it is indeed he and nobody else, who has appeared to them after the recent betrayal, denial, and violence. In the Johannine gospel, Jesus’ presence is ratified by the marks on his hands and his side (Jn 20:27) but it looks as if more than these corporeal signs, table-fellowship is the more important distinctive feature of Jesus for Luke’s Christian community. Hence, the evangelist inscribes:
"See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, Have you anything here to eat? They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (RSV, Lk 24:39-43, emphasis added).
Having gone through the diverse meal scenes in Luke and having observed the shifting roles of Jesus on these occasions, we can confirm that a certain picture of Jesus is given in the Third Gospel. It is a picture of Jesus cyclically moving from being Guest-to-Host-and-Servant. As a result, Jesus’ mission can be traced to a Meal-Ministry. A particular presentation of the Kingdom of God also flows from this insight: The Kingdom of God as a banquet for all, especially the hungry and excluded.
A SUMMARY OF THE LUKAN MEAL SCENES
ROLES AT TABLE
Ministry in Galilee ( 4:16-9:51)
Jesus, his disciples, tax collectors, and others 5:29
Jesus (+ unwelcomed woman) 7:36
Simon, a Pharisee (7:36)
Apostles (12), 9:13
Ministry on the Journey (9:51-19:27)
Jesus, 11:37; Pharisees, 11:39; Lawyers, 11:45;
Unnamed Pharisee, 11:37
Jesus, 14:1; man, 14:2; Lawyer, 14:3, Pharisees, 14:3
Ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, 14:1
Zacchaeus, chief tax collector, 19:5
Ministry in Jerusalem (19:28-23:56)
Cleopas & a companion, 24:18, 29 [Jesus 24:30]
Eleven & companions, 24:33
In this paper I have tried to describe Filipino food culture and meal experiences. Beyond the physical necessity of food lies its socio-cultural meaning, including the way people’s relationships can change from being a guest to host and servant depending on the level of interaction. We have also seen that the portrait of the Last Supper which is present in almost every Filipino home is an unrecognized Filipino Christological image. Yet the reality of hunger is a menace in Philippine society with children and women especially suffering the most.
From this socio-cultural, religious, and economic perspective we delved into the potential spiritual resource that Filipinos can gain from the Lukan Gospel’s particular portrait of Jesus. Using narrative-redaction and some insights from social-science, we have seen how Jesus is illustrated as one who moves from being guest-to-host-and-servant. It seems that the follower of Jesus begins by being a guest, and is then challenged to become host. Yet, lest one becomes proud of being the one who provides, a further challenge was posted at the Farewell Meal—to occupy the place of a servant. Jesus’ meal scenes, then, became his enacted parable of the varying demands of shifting roles at table and displayed his justice way of life. As a result, a specific image of the Kingdom of God becomes apparent, a banquet for all, especially the hungry and marginalized ones. A further consequence of fellowship with Jesus is, that not only are we recipients of his goodness and providence, but we are challenged to become agents of this banquet for all by taking on the same role which Jesus himself took—cyclically moving from guest-to-host-and-servant as well, individually and, more importantly, communally.
The insights offered by this approach to the Lukan meal scenes in relation to the lived experience of the Filipinos may even lead Filipino Christians to see our everyday table-fellowship in connection with the Eucharist, not as something totally divorced from it, but see anew the Eucharist in relation to the daily meals that we have.
Thus, we see the Eucharist in relation to the daily meals which we celebrate together, rich and poor alike, joining the table as guests of the Lord who is the host and servant and the food and drink that is served, we will experience being like Jesus for each other.
Finally, this specific way of reading the Third Gospel from a Third World perspective will drive us out of the secure and holy confines of the church building as a consequence of our radical and rightful celebration of the Eucharist so that it truly becomes life and light this new millennium. It may carry us into the demanding and dangerous arena of the struggle to support campaigns for economic, political, socio-cultural rights so that everyone, not just a few, can have enough food at table thrice a day. If ever that happens, we will all have more reason to recognize daily meals as moments of thanksgiving and the Sunday communal celebration of the Eucharist will truly be the summit of celebration by people who make sure that everyone is well nourished and fully alive, for the glory of God.
1. See Odal 1994:68-86. For her, kapwa means "the other is oneself" so much so that pakikipagkapwa is the process of considering others as oneself. See Odal, 77.
2. Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines 1999: no. 75: For a country known for its poverty, it is surprising for many visiting foreigners to discover our fondness for eating together. At important celebrations and gatherings food is always served and shared. Besides, we are very welcoming and hospitable to visitors. It is important for us to welcome visitors and let them share our meals, even if they come at short notice or pay a surprise visit. It is a great honor for a poor family if a guest joins them for a meal, however little that family can afford to offer (author’s translation).
3. See also the compilation of Sta. Romana-Cruz 1997:22. She chose and collected a simple yet a very telling checklist on the peculiarly Filipino traits from the Internet. She says that one can consider oneself a Filipino if "you decorate your dining room wall with a giant wooden spoon and fork and a picture of the Last Supper" (Emphasis added).
4. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization acknowledging the importance of rice in feeding millions of peoples around the world declared on 31 October 2003 the International Year of Rice: Symbol of Cultural Identity and Global Unity with a motto "Rice is Life." Seehttp://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/sag175. doc.htm Press Release SAG/175 "United Nations Launches International Year of Rice: Symbol of Cultural Identity and Global Unity" 31 October 2003. This was accessed on 2 April 2004.
5. http://www.aseansec.org/15652.htm. Asean Secretariat, Jakarta, Indonesia. "News Release, Sustainable Development of Rice Vital For Asean" 13 January 2004. This was accessed last 2 April 2004.
6. This is based on the consolidated report of various non-governmental organizations entitled, The Philippine State’s Obligation to its Citizens’ Right to Adequate Food and Right to Adequate Housing: An NGO Report for Submission to the United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, no. 37, p. 14 which was accessed last 2 April 2003 from http://www.tfdp.org/resources/ 2003NGO reportcescrfinal.PDF.
7. We must acknowledge, though, that the Jesus meal tradition found its earliest expressions in Mark’s gospel while the table talks and sayings are in the Q document following the two-source theory. Recent scholarship now re-considers the Markan meal scenes 2:15-17, 6:30-44; 8:1-9; 143-49 and 14:12-25. For a more detailed discussion see, Smith 2003:243-53; as well as Fowler 1981; Mack 1988; andKlosinski 1988 cited by Smith.
8. Moxnes 1988:86. For famine or hunger in Israel’s history, see 4:25; 6:3. For the contrast between those who hunger and those who are filled, see 1:53; 6:21, 25; 16:19-21; 15:17. For the passages concerning God feeding the hungry, see 6:1-5, 21-25; 9:10-17; 15:14-24; 16:19-26.
9. The meal scenes of Jesus can also be considered in the context of table talk. However, a short paper cannot do justice to the richness of these insights. This article is limited to the changing role of Jesus at table and the main concern is the Farewell Meal (Lk 22:14-38).
10. The phrase "glutton and a drunkard" is found only in Deut 21:20, Lk 3:34, and Mt 11:19. This particular "description" of Jesus gives the impression that he was echoing a serious crime since this could mean death by stoning (Deut 21:18-21).
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