Christians in Food Services Discuss Their Work (Video)

Video / Produced by TOW Project

In this video, New Testament scholar Sean McDonough argues that the modern food services industry its roots in the Bible, specifically the gospel of Luke. Starting at minute 10:54  Christians who work in food services share how the Christian faith changes their approach to their work. This video is part of Jesus And Your Job, a video series on how Christians in different industries view their work. To find out more about this series and how you can use it as a small group study, go to the Jesus And Your Job homepage.

A Biblical Basis for Food Services

Today we have what might be my favorite topic of all: Food Services and Hospitality. It's not just because I enjoy the administrations of those who prepare food for me, though I do. It’s that hospitality really is at the heart of the kingdom.

Giving and receiving food is the way we bond as humans. It’s also the way we bond as Christians. It’s not a surprise that the single most important ongoing sacrament for the church is a meal. The whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament centers around a meal with God in the Temple. The sacrifice, the slaughter, and the distribution of the food all culminate in a meal in the presence of God. There is no more visceral sign of fellowship than eating together. So those who provide food are doing an unbelievable service to the kingdom of God.

I want to demonstrate just how central the theme of hospitality is to understanding Luke’s gospel and indeed the Gospel as a whole. Let’s start with Luke 9:10-17.

On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

Luke 9:10-17

This is a very well-known miracle. Even people who’ve never been to church know something about Jesus feeding these people in the wilderness, and there’s a lot we could say about it on its own terms. For instance, it’s meant to remind people of God feeding the Israelites with Mana in the wilderness. This is brought out more clearly in John’s account of this miracle where Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven" (John 6:32). Jesus goes on to say “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). So with this miracle, Jesus is signaling a new exodus as he liberates people from sin and death.

But this is really just one example of a major theme running all the way through Luke’s gospel and the gospel as a whole. Years ago when I was teaching in Fiji I had a student who was looking for a term paper topic. Having been in the Pacific for a while at that point, I knew that it was a feasting culture; the feast was always the first line item on any budget. I had some vague sense that I’d read some things in Luke about feasting. So the student and I began to look through the gospel page by page. I began to be amazed by how pervasive the theme of food and welcome is in Luke’s gospel.

Here are some examples:

Jesus calls Levi (Luke 5:27-28). Levi, later Matthew, was one of the first disciples. Jesus said, “Follow me,” and Levi left everything and followed him. Then what is the next thing he does? How does he make his faith real? He made a great feast in his house. No doubt all sorts of servants had to help bring that feast to reality; it didn’t happen on its own.

A woman bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). This event happened at a meal in someone’s house. The woman has her sins forgiven, while the Pharisee gets rebuked for not offering Jesus water for his feet. Perhaps he wasn’t the greatest host, but at least he was trying. Plus, I tend to hold out hope for this chap because in Luke 7:40 Jesus calls him by name, and usually people who get named in the gospels turn out to be disciples in the end.

The kingdom described as wedding feast (Luke 14:7-22). The feasting theme goes on and on through Luke’s gospel. It culminates in terms of teaching in chapter 14 where Jesus talks about the kingdom of God as a wedding feast. He gives a direct exhortation in verse 12, “He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.” (Luke 14:12).

Lazarus the bigger (Luke 16:19-31). Speaking of the resurrection of the just, there’s a dark side to that as well. In chapter 16, we have our friend Lazarus lying outside the gate of the rich man. Lazarus “longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table” (Luke 16:21). But he can’t even get that. Why? Because the rich man is the anti-Christian – he doesn’t welcome people to the table. He doesn’t extend hospitality. Instead he literally and figuratively closes his gates against people in need. That’s a very sad thing, and he comes to a very sad end in Jesus’ story.RESTART HERE!!!!!

Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). The climax of Jesus’ public ministry is the story of Zacchaeus, the repentant tax collector. He is rich too, but he becomes a different sort of person as he pursues Jesus and as Jesus pursues him. Jesus says to Zacchaeus “I must stay at your house today” and Zacchaeus “welcomed him gladly” (Luke 19:5-6) through a feast at his home. This is the climax of Jesus’ public ministry according to Luke -  the very last thing that happens before he comes to Jerusalem. That’s no coincidence. In Luke’s gospel the point is welcoming Jesus, finding that Jesus welcomes you, and making that concrete in a shared meal.

The Passover (Luke 22:7-22). It all comes together in the feast of unleavened bread, the Passover meal which Jesus and the disciples share together. This meal then becomes the foundation for the ongoing celebration of the Lord’s supper, our communion together.

What a better way to show the love of God? To show the heart of God? To show the central point of the whole cosmos which is for the creation to be in fellowship with God? What a better way to show that day by day than by working in food services and hospitality?

David’s Story:

My name is David. I've been attending the church since 1994. My job is working at North Shore Stop & Shop bagging groceries. I would say my favorite thing about my job is the people contact. I get to keep in contact with people who have come into my life in various stages: people from high school, people from college, people from church, because they come in as customers.

I would say for me the hardest thing is feeling like I'm too slow. People wait in line with large orders and not being fast enough, at least for myself, is the hardest. I am disabled and slower, and I know people are looking to get through quickly. If they’re impatient I can see it in their eyes. And yet because a disabled person might get embarrassed, the customers do not help.

How do I relate my faith to my work? One thing for me is, being disabled, I try to be a role model to those people who have disabilities. Whatever they might be. Usually in the bagging front, it would be physical handicaps, not psychological or internal disabilities.

Rebecca’s Story:

My name is Rebecca. I live with my parents.  I work at Stop & Shop in North Beverly as a grocery bagger, and I’ve worked there for almost fourteen years. My favorite part or the job is seeing people I know from church and my neighborhood, and also my team friends. I like being careful when I bag - I put eggs and bread on top. I also like cashing checks so I can give my offering to church every Sunday.

Tom’s story:

I’m a food service director at a school now. Prior to that I’ve had a catering company and a restaurant, so I’ve been in the industry for about 40 years.

I opened Heart House in Ipswitch in 1989 with my mother-in-law. It was a closed venue. That was a long 11 years. We really struggled. We eventually made it. I left and bought a small catering company which my wife and I worked for 14 years. We ended up being successful, which is really helpful. The volatility is there in the industry. We’ve watched restaurants open and close. That’s why I looked at catering – it was much more of a known entity. You know how many people, you know when they’re coming, you’re  not waiting for people to come into the front door, you don’t have to run specials. Especially in our industry, which was primarily clam bakes and barbeques, everybody’s happy. You serve them a good cup of chowder, give them a hot lobster, you finish it with a strawberry shortcake, and it’s kind of bulletproof.   You’re not relying on somebody in the back of the restaurant sautéing a veal piccate, and the darn guy’s hungover. Running a restaurant, there are a lot of factors.  

I spent 25 years at work as a non-Christian, and 14 years recently as a Christian. Now I’m a nicer person. Just ask me!  Seriously though, I react very differently now, with much more measured thoughtful responses. I’m better at personnel, better with clients, better with wife, family, and I have a lot of family working with me and for me. I have more thoughtful, less reactionary, kinder response to any kind of interaction. For me I had a transformational period. In 2003 and I was still swearing etc. But moving on to the last 5 years, I’m a very different person. Same guy, same thoughts, but a very different response to situations.

Elizabeth’s story:

I was Michelle’s assistant and Tom’s minion, so I’ve been catering and working for clients for 7 years now. We have the benefit of working jobs that are generally celebrations. It’s a happy gathering of people. We just want to remove stress from the host so that they can enjoy why they’re there and why they’ve gathered friends and family to celebrate.

When I was working difficult jobs, the times that I was mindful that I represent Christ I would remember to pray. “Give me eyes to see people the way you see people, Lord. Not the way I’m seeing people.” This helped change the focus of what I was doing, and helped change the impact of unreasonable requests. 

People have unreasonable expectations for an on-site caterer. We had a wedding on the neck in Glouchester, and it was cold and blustery. The guests were in little summer frocks, not seasonally attired, and they were cold and wanted coffee. They kept coming up to our portable kitchen asking, “Do you have any coffee?”

“No, honey, the coffee won’t be served until dessert.”

“Oh.”

Five minutes later.

“Is the coffee ready yet?”

Just so you know, it takes an hour to prep a pot of coffee.

In those moments it’s very easy to be annoyed. You think: why didn’t you look at the weather report and wear something appropriate? But you know that’s not going to help the situation. It’s really just remembering that God loves these people. We need to reflect that in how we respond to them and take care of them.

Christians can also be better customers for those working in food service and hospitality. I would recommend a couple of things for all Christians. One, all of your teenage children need to have a service job at some point in their lives. They need to know what it’s like to be the person that either washes the dishes, serves the food, wipes the table, or mops the floor. That’s part of their education.

There is a book called “Nickeled and Dimed, life in America” by a journalist who wanted to see if she could live on minimum wage. She took minimum wage jobs all around our country and she wrote articles about them which turned into this book. The chapter where she works as a waitress is very convicting for us as Christians. She writes that nice church people would come in large groups, occupy her tables inordinate amounts of time, order little, and leave very little to no tip. If we are to be salt and light in our culture, we need to recognize how hard people in service industries work. And we need to tip accordingly. We need to be generous, because we are speaking in ways that we don’t realize. We could be saying that the gospel and Christ is cheap, that we use people and we don’t appreciate people. That is contrary to how our lord saw people. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Luke 14:7-22 describes the Kingdom of God as a wedding feast. Think about a memorable meal you shared with others. In what ways was that meal similar to the Kingdom that Jesus describes?
  2. David, a grocery bagger with a physical handicap, thinks of himself as a role-model to other people with disabilities. In what way are you a role-model to people you see during the work day?
  3. Elizabeth thinks that every Christian should have the experience of serving others by waiting tables or wiping the floor. Have you ever worked a service job? What did that job teach you about other people? What did it teach you about God?