I recently attended a worship service with a group of students from the campus ministry I serve. The students were leading music for the service. After the service I assumed we would all go out for lunch. After all, sharing food together is crucial in our campus ministry. When the service concluded we were invited to a potluck lunch at the church. I expected my students to decline politely. Our city has endless options for food, and I thought they would want to take advantage of being treated to something they might not otherwise eat. How wrong I was! They quickly accepted the invitation to the potluck and raved about the homemade options. Their enthusiasm made me ponder Jesus’ feelings about a potluck meal as well as connections between a potluck and the call to feed the hungry. I concluded that Jesus loves the practice of potlucks and wants us to follow the principles of a potluck as we seek to share good food with others.
“If sharing food together is truly an act of holiness it makes sense to include two principles of a potluck: bring your best and welcome everyone.”
It is clear to me that Jesus loves a potluck because Jesus appears to love any act of sharing food with others. The story that first comes to mind is that of feeding a mass of people with a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21 and 15:32-39, Mark 6:30-44 and 8:1-10, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-14). But this instance is only scratching the surface. Jesus is seen in the gospels constantly eating with others. He boldly invites himself to a meal at Zacchaeus’ house (Luke 19:1-10). One of the charges leveled against Jesus is that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Yes, it seems he will eat with anyone. In his final act before his death he shared a meal with his closest friends (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-25, Luke 22:7-23, John 13:1-20). After the resurrection, he is still eating with others (Luke 24:13-43, John 21:9-14). It is clear through Jesus’ actions that he feels there is something holy about sharing food together.
If sharing food together is truly an act of holiness it makes sense to include two principles of a potluck: bring your best and welcome everyone. The epic potlucks I have attended were like a competition on The Food Network. Each person or family brought their best dish. Many people would share food from a recipe that had been in their family for generations. I believe this is a model for how we should share food with others. Often I see those who are hungry receive cheap, and frankly bad food. This is both inhospitable and unhealthy. When we share food with others we should offer something we ourselves want to eat. In fact, I am a firm believer in actually eating the food we share with our neighbors (which hopefully includes everyone – because it does in Jesus’ case). It strikes me that Jesus does not call us simply to distribute food. Rather, when possible, I believe Jesus wants us to share in the meal together, because the act of sharing food together leads us to experience the sustenance of God together.
As is often the case, my students taught me something that day at church. A fancy meal out is all well and good, but a potluck is holy because the best food is shared with everyone as we meet Jesus together in the breaking of bread.
About the Author: Rev. David Hollis is an elder in the Memphis Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves at the Wesley Fellowship for Belmont University in Nashville, TN.