Several days ago I decided to end my year in the Scriptures by reading through Proverbs. Where I typically take Proverbs a couple of times per year, one chapter per day, this has been a different experience. It is less about the individual principles and more about the landscape of the book. Reading 80 or 90 “proverbs” in one sitting does at least two things: it gives a sense of the patterns of both foolishness and wisdom, and it also causes the individual “stand out” lessons to stand out even more profoundly.
Today I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a simple verse from chapter 15,
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it..
This verse, though couched in the context of food and meals, is not about food. It is not a declaration of “peaceful cuisine” vs “angry cuisine”. It is about perspective. The Bible is replete with examples and teachings that all point to the counter-intuitive reality that less is more. But that’s not even completely true, because this “little is much” mentality that we are instructed to foster never terminates on little, or less, or lack. Jesus said that the hungry and the poor and the thirsty and the sad and persecuted were actually blessed (Matthew 5) despite what they might feel in the moment. Jesus wasn’t elevating poverty in His teaching, that would have been, at least, hypocritical of Him considering He owns the entire universe. What He was saying was more profound than anything an empowered victimization could ever produce. He tells us that our eyes are easily blinded to the things in our lives that are actually blessings, and sometimes we only see what we need to see when the trappings of this life are removed from our field of vision.
In Proverbs there is some of that same principle. What is important at this fictional table is not what’s on the plates in front of the guests but what’s in their hearts. The best steak in the world only becomes indigestion when the company is uncomfortable. A perfectly prepared loaded baked potato is nothing but a spastic colon in a stressful situation. The dish means so much less than the soul on the other side of the table.
We have our trouble with this. In America food is actually a barometer of our socio-economic status. The more we eat out, and the nicer the places we eat, one of two things must be assumed: you are either well-off, or you are in debt. Solomon’s words in this Proverb cut though some of that fat (yes, pun). We are to clear the table and look at whoever it is we are sharing the meal with and think deeper thoughts than the lobster bisque. What I think Solomon is saying, other than the obvious, is that we have a tendency to exchange important things for trivial things. We are willing to live with broken relationships and avoid reconciliation as long as the food is good and we don’t talk about the problems at the table.
Perhaps what the wise one is saying is not as simple after all. Solomon was not known for eating a skimpy meal, in fact, Solomon didn’t do anything that left any doubt that he was a king, and the richest man on earth. Everything he did was way over the top with regard to quality, quantity, and frequency. So, could it be that Solomon isn’t saying, “find your poor, good friends and eat just what you can scrape onto the table”? Maybe he’s saying, “reconcile your relationships and then eat steak, or ox, or buffalo, or whatever pleases you”. Maybe we shouldn’t embrace an impoverished thinking about this verse before we look at what Solomon is identifying here as essential. The cuisine doesn’t matter, but that works both ways, on both the slim pickings side and the lavish side. What matters is how you have arrived at the table with whoever is sitting across from you.