This year, my family has had the blessing of having numerous immigrant families stay in our home.
Currently, we have a Venezuelan couple living with us, whom we absolutely adore, and who treat our kids like their own nephew and niece.
Recently at lunchtime, the husband and wife offered to make a sandwich for my son. There was bread and meat and all sorts of toppings sprawled on the kitchen counter and, even though my son doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, he could understand their gesture.
In moments like this, I like to stand back and watch how my kids process and engage with other languages. Sometimes, we as parents are too quick to cut in and “help” our kids, when really part of the learning process is letting them figure out meaning and connection on their own.
So, there my son was, taking in the food displayed on our counter, and it was like I could see the wheels turning in his mind.
Sandwiches look unalike from country to country. Different cultures fill sandwiches with varied types of food. Some cultures eat sandwiches open-faced. Others microwave their sandwiches, preferring to eat them hot. The type of sandwich the Venezuelan couple offered my son was very different from anything he had ever eaten. But they were smiling and pointing, and they clearly wanted to care for him.
My son looked at me and said, “Mom, I don’t fully know what they want to make for me, but I’m going to give it a try.”
I was so proud of him as he turned back to the husband with a thumbs up and said, “Si.” He then proceeded to sit down with them and eat the whole sandwich without any complaints or fuss.
Later, when I asked him why he decided to try the sandwich, he said, “I know they wanted to be nice to me, and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.” I told my son I was so proud of him for being willing to try new things and consider other peoples’ perspectives.
More than that, I told him that by being willing to try something new, he had shown love and honor to this couple the way Jesus wants us to.
It’s not always easy to receive the hospitality of food around other people’s tables, though, is it?
The theology of table fellowship – in which the people of God are to break bread together for the sake of oneness – is writ clear throughout the New Testament, and yet it is a command that is easier said than done.
Put simply: we don’t always like each other’s foods.
In fact, many of us have very strong opinions about what kinds of food taste good, whether a certain dish will sit well in our bodies, and whether or not a dish has the right nutritional value.
If I were to ask you, “What foods do you not like?” you’d probably be able to come up with a long list! Because we think we know the fullness of what we already like, it’s easy to get stuck in our daily eating habits and have zero to little interest in branching out and trying the cuisines of the people around us.
Having favorite foods or comfort foods isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But when we prioritize eating food that is familiar and comfortable over accepting table fellowship with people whose cuisine is different from what we’re used to, we are missing opportunities to give and receive the love of Christ.
The gift of table fellowship was a powerful lesson that one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, had to learn the hard way.
In Acts 10, Peter is called to go to the house of a Gentile, a Roman centurion named Cornelius, to share the gospel. While there, he is also invited to eat with the family, which requires eating a new kind of meat. In the past, Peter would have never even dreamed of touching a meat that he considered “unclean.” But God speaks to him in a vision and commands him to dine with this Roman family as a way to show God’s grace and love.
In this radical moment of table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles, in which unfamiliar food is eaten, the Holy Spirit’s power ushers in and all of Cornelius’ family comes to faith.
Want to know why it’s so important to respectfully try other people’s foods? People will see Christ through your efforts to eat the food that they love most. This is the kind of humble love-in-action that looks out for what’s best for others that Paul writes about in Philippians 2.
So, the next time you’re invited to someone else’s home, eat what they cook for you without complaint.
The next time someone invites you out to a restaurant where the menu feels unfamiliar, choose to go joyfully and ask for their help in picking out a meal.
The next time you smell a new food in the cafeteria, at church, or in your workplace, take a deep breath, smile, and genuinely ask the other person to tell you the story of their dish.
The more we embrace people’s foods, the more we show them that we embrace the fullness of their humanity the way God does.
Trying things that are new and getting out of our comfort zones is hard, but sitting in spaces of cultural discomfort for the sake of the gospel is always worth it.