I took a course a few years ago on multiculturalism. Apart from passing the subject as a requirement toward my master’s degree, I also studied it with a passion for the sake of my priestly ministry. The professor emphasized that the first step to integrating different cultures is by inviting friends to share a meal. When friends come together to share a meal, they can taste different dishes not familiar to them. And when people come together to eat, they begin talking about themselves. Thus, the people become more familiar, and they begin to laugh.
This approach is often the beginning of friendships that can last a lifetime. As at every dinner, there is soda and wine to gladden the heart. Another form of communal integration is by inter-racial marriages that connect men and women in love. My professor emphasized that to refuse invitations to dinner and social events such as weddings, naming ceremonies, etc. is the beginning of alienation and loneliness in our ever-growing diverse multicultural societies. Since my priestly ministry in the United States, I have enjoyed the benefits of accepting invitations to dinners, housewarming, etc. The lesson for me is simple: food brings people together in whatever ceremony.
Jesus has been teaching the vast crowds and they will not even allow him to rest. He felt pity for them, but he wanted to satisfy their hunger for food. Philip tells him, two hundred days’ wages cannot buy enough food to feed the crowds. Then Andrew the brother of Simon Peter pointed out that there is a boy with two fish and five loaves, and these can barely satisfy a few people in the crowds. However, Jesus did the unusual. He collected the two fish and five loaves and offered them to God. He blessed these items and told the disciples to distribute to them to the crowds. People ate and everybody was satisfied leaving twelve wicker baskets filled with fragments. How did this happen? Biblical scholars categorize this as a miracle because nobody can explain how two fish and five loaves can feed such a vast crowd of people and still record twelve wicker baskets filled with scraps.
The abiding love of Jesus makes him popular among the crowds so much so that they termed him a prophet and wanted to crown him as king. But Jesus withdrew to the mountains to continue his reflections about the approaching Jewish feast of Passover. In this story, we can see that food endeared the crowds to Jesus because he took care of their physical needs as well as their spiritual wellbeing. You can imagine teaching a crowd for six hours without a McDonald’s or a Fogo de Chão restaurant around the corner. People will be angry, and many will surely leave to find some food to eat. Jesus knew this and he multiplied fish and bread giving them something to satisfy their hunger. It is said that “The way to a man’s heart is through is stomach.” Our African women understand this correctly to mean making the best dishes for their husbands and families.
But Jesus is not the first to multiply food. Elisha did it many years before him. With twenty barley loaves made from first fruits, Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.” As the people ate and were satisfied; the leftovers were collected for other people.
The message to us is clear: These two events are preludes to the Eucharistic gift of Jesus giving himself in abundance for our spiritual journey. Each time we participate at Mass, we share in the abundance of Jesus’ love as multitudes of people call upon his name from all cultures of the world. St. Paul summarizes this for us; we all belong to the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all in all.” Since we belong to one God, why cannot we share one loaf, one fish and one table so that we can enjoy our oneness in Love!
The Church is therefore a community of peoples from all cultures who share one meal, the Eucharist daily keeps us connected as friends in Love. We need to rally around the dining room table always so that we can break the barriers that hold us apart from each other by appreciating the food others have enjoyed for centuries. If you are yet to host a parishioner from another culture in your house, try it and learn the benefits of multiculturalism and integration. I began by reading the book Multicultural Manners (Wiley, 2005) by Norine Dresser to get to understand the do-s and don’t-s of food politics. Keep praying!BACK TO LIST