Text: Proverbs 15:17
Location: Presbyterian Church Palisades, NY
Date: May 8th, 2005
In Brazil we say that if advices were good they should be sold. Contrary to this saying, the Bible is full of advices and the book of Proverbs is a collection of advices. The writer of the book says that “Fools think their own way is right but the wise listen to advice”. (Proverbs 12:15)
This particular book of the Bible has a type of theology, of a God talk, that is ingrained in the very core of our human lives, a theology that is built based on a type of knowledge that comes simply by paying attention to life. This theology made of assertions and advices want to help its readers to correct their directions, to put weight on different emphases or help them to make necessary detours. Its spirituality is found in the midst of a rough concreteness of life and God only appears as reflected in and through human actions. For this book’s theology, God is not a concealed idea, a brilliant thought but rather, a constant correction of the positioning of our body, of our intentions and deeds. God spurs out of daily struggles, it gains a face in and through relations, it is twisted and gains shape according to our ways of acting, of behaving, of believing, and it is empowered in the nitty-gritty of our too human situation. God appears only in our humanness, hidden and revealed in our materiality, in the way we eat for instance, in our body’s movements, our gestures, our actions and in our words.
How does this verse from Proverbs can help us to correct our directions, to do the re-positioning of our bodies, and/or the re-working of our words?
Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.
I don’t think the writer was a vegetarian, which makes this assertion even stronger. Yes, an assertion that can be turned into an advice, an advice that has to do with meals and with tables. One of the best places to learn theology is around the table. There is so much around the table: preparation, expectation, conversation, laughter as well as mistakes, words out of place, lack of care and absence. Moreover, a table is, sometimes, a way of measuring our happiness. A meal, a coffee, a desert, a smile, a confession, a demand, a plea… spaces, moments and words in which we decide our lives, we start a new job, we ignite relationships, we break up relations, we make fools of ourselves, we fall in love, we catch up with friends.
As I ponder these words: Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it. I am reminded of two stories about food, love, table, friendship and being uncomfortable.
The first story happened to me when I was about 10 or 11 years old.
I was on vacation in the countryside of São Paulo where my older sister used to live. There they got to know a very wealthy family in the region. I mean really wealthy. One day they invited my sister’s family to have lunch with them and I happened to be there. I had heard of this family and I barely knew the family from church. One thing was very clear from the outset: I knew how far apart our realities were. When my sister told me that we were supposed to eat at their house I got really anxious and started to feel very uncomfortable. The reason for my worries was that I would have to use the entire cutlery that I had never used in my life. You know those tables in which you have a hundred forks, and another hundred knives and spoons? At that time I had no idea how to use them, how to act or behave properly. Anyways, we went and when we got there, there was a table only for kids. The rich family had three kids around my age and there a were few others. We were about six or seven children at that table.
I still remember exactly how the table was set: Each one of us had three different sized glasses, three forks, three knives, two spoons and two plates. I was really confused and feeling totally dizzy. “What do I do here?,” I kept asking myself. What is this fork for? Why do I have three glasses? Well, I had to make some sense out of this discombobulated situation. I knew I had to make assumptions and decide what to do.
I couldn’t tell them that I didn’t know how to use all of that paraphernalia. It would have been too much of a shame for a 11 year-old boy from the big city.
So, I decided that I would imitate my neighbor at my right. I said to myself: ”Everything he eats I will eat, everything he takes I will take, everything he refuses I will refuse.” They were simple rules of survival…The waiter started serving us the drinks: first water, then sodas and then juices. I was looking for juice but the guy at my right took water. So, I took water too. Same glasses filled thank god!
Then the food started to come and being firm with my decision I only took what the guy at my right took. I remember that there was something that I didn’t like at all but I had to take and eat because of my own instructions.
That lunch had so much food!!!!!!
After the entrees, we had a barbecue with all kinds of meat. And I love barbecue! We were supposed to go to the barbecue grill and the person offered me all that stuff and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know most of the meat. The guy at my right was not at my side at this moment and I saw myself alone with so many options and my own necessary decision. Not knowing exactly what to do I said yes to whatever they offered me without paying much attention to it.
I go back to our table, chose the proper cutlery and started to cut the meet. No sooner I took the fork and the knife and out it on the meat, something happened: the meat seemed mad at me and it went out of my plate and landed right in the middle of the table, to everybody’s surprise!! A huge silence went over to the children’s table and everybody stared at me. I turned pink, purple, green, yellow and totally red. I didn’t know what to do… The tears came to my eyes but I held them back. You must be strong, I told myself!
Then I brought the meat back to my plate and decided that I was not hungry anymore. I skipped the rest of the food, even the desert, and decided not to eat anymore.
There was no hatred at that table. They were very nice people. But I could not connect with them. My fears prevented me from letting myself enjoy that time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t feel comfortable. I could not posit myself towards accepting them or been accepted by them. I was locked up in my fears and tensions.
The second story tells about an opposite experience which happened to me when I was a pastor in a very poor community at the outskirts of São Paulo. This community couldn’t even pay me most of the time. One day, I stopped by at the house of one of the elders around lunch time. I didn’t want to eat there, for I was in a hurry. Nevertheless, this simple man insisted that I stay and to eat with him. He was eating rice mixed up with egg from an old and weary pan. For my surprise, and not waiting for my excuses, he handed out a spoon to me and with a wonderful smile he said:
“Pastor, come, eat here with me. It is only egg and rice but it is delicious. It is enough for both of us.” Then I took the spoon and standing in his tiny kitchen I ate one of the most delicious meals I ever had.
In that surprise meal, there was friendship, a smile and love. There was a welcoming environment; there was joy with my uninvited presence. There was food for the body and for the soul. In that meal I was opened to the other. The table was our friendship.
These two stories illustrate moments at table that can expand us or let us down, and how much these moments can feed us for the rest of our lives. As Gaston Bachelard said, table’s stories send us back to “our old houses, abandoned houses that in our wonderings, they are still inhabited”.
What I like the most about the liturgical architecture of our churches is the Eucharistic table.
This table is at the core of our faith. It links past, present and future, it welcomes us, it invites us, it makes us unique and equal, it breaks boundaries, it get us closer, it challenges us, it moves us beyond ourselves and creates community.
How the tables of our daily life do relate to this table here at church? Can we laugh or cry as we eat here? Can this table cast away our fears? May God grant you wisdom to discern what goes around this table as you worship God and serve one another. May this table be a table where love abounds, a table of forgiveness, of wonderful recollections, grateful memories and of stories yet to be told.
Today is mother’s day. What a wonderful day! Today is a day to honor them, both those who have died and those who are still blessing us with their presence.
Here another question for you: In what ways does your mother make you think about God? We are so used to talk about God as He, as father, that we forget that God is not a male being. God is neither male nor female. Since we choose anthropomorphic forms to talk about God, why not think God more often as mother? We should switch, from time to time, the Lord’s Prayer from “Our Father who art in heaven” to “Our mother who art in heaven”. The changing of the words re-locates cialis cost generic viagra online canadian online pharmacy our bodies, it can warm our hearts and offer us a different taste of what God might be.
We read in Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” says God.
Regarding our Proverb, how should we relate God, our mothers and the tables and meals of our daily lives? What kind of table are you preparing for your mom today? Seat her at the table, serve her food and water, smile to her, give her a hug, and surround the table with love and gratitude. And do it without her notice. Honor her. However, if your mother is not with you, tell somebody some of the stories of your mother, stories that you carry with you and will be with you forever. tourist attractions . If you had already told these stories, tell them again.
This is our good advice for today: Let us make the tables and our meals of our daily life a place of encounters and re-encounters. Let our daily tables correct our life’ posture, our theological understandings, enhance our hopes and help us with our lacks and longings. Let our tables change us. For it is at table that we become spiritual, that we live out our spirituality. Our tables are a locus of God’s revelation. God speaks to us at our tables. Pay attention. Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it. May God bless us all.
 Leonardo Boff, Brasas Sob Cinzas. Stories of the Anti-Quotidien. (Sao Paulo, Ed. Record, 1996), 21-22.