KINDS OF MEALS (Part 3 of 3) 

iv)  Religious Meals 

Religious meals are foods and drinks served or received primarily for their ritual potency, even where the meals might have had a social setting.  They could be meals like every other meal: rice or bread or meat and drinks, but in this case defined by their specific context and their primary purpose.  A case in point would be the kind of meals against which God warns in our opening text: food dedicated to idols.  In this category would also come certain meals served as part of, or served to mark, an idolatrous festival or rite.

In their passage from Egypt to Promised Land, the Israelites degenerated into idolatry, helped unfortunately by Aaron their high priest.  Beware of titles.  They made ungodly offerings, then “sat down to eat and to drink,” and thus “corrupted themselves.”  Note the sequence: idol-related food and drinks, then spiritual pollution (or “corruption”).  At once, God would no more call them “my people” but “thy people” – the people of Moses their leader; the people of a mere mortal (Exodus 32:6-7).  Promptly disowned by the Almighty.

Could a mere ceremonial meal mean so much so soon?  In their distracted festive orgy, were the people conscious of what the angry God thought of them?  Did the spiritual pollution show on their colourful festive clothes?  Did it immediately bring down hailstones from heaven? No, yet…

a)  Digestible Ishmael  

Islam has a feast festival that has often baffled some analysts; an annual festival to whose feast Muslims would usually generously also invite their ‘heathen’ neighbours; the same heathens they sometimes hate enough to kill as an expression of their jihad – which is not to say, though, that every Muslim is a killer.   To others not invited to the feast, they might send lavish portions of the sacred food, especially the meat, which had previously been divided into three portions: one part for this category of ‘neighbours.’

Irrespective of the innocence and goodwill of the giver, I personally am spiritually wary of the charity and generosity of that feast.  Some Christians are more large-hearted on this matter.  As their expression of exemplary ‘Christian love,’ they would even donate livestock and other items in support of the feast.  I stand with Daniel.

I might excuse the rare case of a Christian child in such a family for whom that meal might be their dinner rather than mean the feast itself, but I have learned to refrain still.  According to Koran chapter 22:37, God had told Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael, but while Abraham was about to do so, Angel Gabriel came down with a huge ram that Abraham had to sacrifice in place of Ishmael.  In the Holy Bible, Isaac was the son that might have been sacrificed.  One of the two scriptures, then, must be wrong.  Which?  You are the jury.

If I believe the Bible to be true, and am also aware of the significance of the ostensible substitute ram slain at Islam’s annual Eid al-Adha festival, does partaking in that feast-meat suggest an indirect endorsement of the Koranic position over that of the Bible?  Does it elevate the spirit of Ishmael over Isaac?  Does it also imply the proclamation of one scripture as true and the other as false?  The apparent answer to such puzzles explains the restraint of those ‘extremists’ who, like Daniel, are careful at certain otherwise attractive tables.

Prophet Daniel implicitly warns that the royalty of a meal does not make it spiritually safe; that the lavishness of a table, and even its palace setting, could be a tricky Babylonian ploy to consecrated remnants; that some kingly meat could be dangerous to covenant folks (Daniel 1:8).  Was Daniel being extremist?  What did he know that we don’t?

b)  At Table with Devils 

Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10, was more blunt, suggesting that meals actually connect eaters to altars; that there is more to a goodwill gesture in the eating of certain meals.  Rhetorically, the apostle asks, “Are not THEY WHICH EAT of the sacrifices PARTAKERS OF THE ALTAR?” (1 Corinthians 10:18).  You might wish to answer him, if eating means partaking; if meals might connect altars.

Paul proceeds to state that refraining from such questionable tables is not because one is afraid of the idol or the meal (v.19), but because the meal implies an ‘unholy communion’ of sorts; a fellowship with devils, for “they sacrifice [their food] to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should [by partaking of that meal] have fellowship with devils” (v.20).  “Fellowship with devils” – that is a very strong word.

According to Paul in the same passage, the ‘politeness’ of eating at such tables amounts to double dealing in a spiritual sense, for “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (v. 21).  Another strong name for such feasts: “cup of devils” and “table of devils” – devils in the plural.  Besides, such indiscriminate dietary practices “provoke the Lord to jealousy,” and we are not “stronger than he” (v. 22).  Whoever is stronger and more anointed than the Almighty, may go ahead.  Whoever is friendlier than God and more Christly than Christ, may proceed to show it to the devils at their tables.

What was the position of the early Church leadership on this matter:  “abstain from meats offered to idols … and from fornication” (Acts 15:29; 21:25).  In that verse, idol meats are listed along with fornication, as things to ‘abstain from.’  That says a lot.  If we denounce fornication so much, no less the first item on that provocative list.  Next, if provoking a mere boss could be dangerous, how much more provoking the God of the whole universe “to jealousy,” with an indiscreet appetite?  And beware: jealous lovers could be very deadly.

This is Apostle Paul’s verdict on the debate:

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not (1 Corinthians 10:23).

c)  Don’t Ask 

What about meal dedications of which one is unaware?  There are many of such.  If one is unaware, one is unaware, and should not go probing, according to 1 Corinthians 10:25-30, which makes allowance for conscience rather than for spiritual pollution.

25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; 26 for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” 

27 If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.”   29 “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? 30 But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? (1 Corinthians 10:25-30, NKJV).

d)  The Lord’s Table 

Another example of a religious meal would be the Holy Communion, over which a priest makes invocations before it is served.  Its potency is described, for example, by Apostle Paul when he states that the meal had been known to be dangerous to those who had eaten it thoughtlessly, wounding some, and even killing others.  In the same passage, Paul distinguishes between the sacred meal on the one hand, and a nutritional meal which the believer would have eaten properly at home before coming to the gathering, so as not to vent their natural hunger on the holy sacrament, thus inherently desecrating the Holy Communion as a mere meal (1 Corinthians 11:27-34).  In John 6:53-58, Jesus also states the powers and implications of the Communion, making the point that all food is not mere food, although they all go through the mouth.  See also Numbers 5:15-28.

Sometimes, natural meals from a spiritual origin could carry a spiritual force.  That was the case with the bread and water that the depressed Prophet Elijah was served by the angel of God.  That food took him on his long journey for forty days and forty nights.  No natural food has that potency.  Most meals will have digested after a few hours, leaving the eater hungry again, but not what the angel served the prophet (1 Kings 19:8).  There was something more in it than the fortifying nutrients it carried.

e)  A Prayer 

God expresses displeasure with outright idolatry (Exodus 20:3-5), with idol meals (Revelation 2:20), and with idol names (Exodus 23:13).  Idolatry takes different tricky guises.  O God, keep us pure from idols, in Jesus name, amen (1 John 5:21).

From The Preacher’s diary,
November 24, 2022. 

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