A quick reading-comprehension test:
The people of Judah are seized by Babylon and marched out of their home country. Once situated in the new land, the king does a once-over of the strapping young lads, chooses the strongest and best looking and takes them to the palace. In 3 years, he says, we’re going to see what you’re made of.
So 4 of the Israelite men are given new names and sat before a buffet each day, but it’s not Kosher. So Daniel says, “no way, Jose” (even though the guy’s name was Ashpenaz). Ash worries about his own head and what might become of him when his team underperforms because they lack strength. So they do a trial run for 10 days. At the end of the extended week, Daniel and his friends looked better than those taking from the Kings table.
Clearly, the moral of the story is:
A) God wants us to be vegetarians
B) God did a miracle by strengthening Daniel & his men while they meat-fasted
C) God wanted to reiterate why Kosher rules existed
D) God revealed a constant truth about his Kingdom
At different points in my life, I would answer this quiz with each of the responses. However, my leanings more consistently have been an attitude of B, that “oh my goodness, look what God did to protect them!” I’ve maintained a posture of awe toward the event. But with a year of my eating habits under the microscope, my eyes have been opened to a new view.
Watch any toddler consume a meal and our nature is revealed: eat what you like, first, so when you get full (or you really don’t like the other dish), you can simply quit before you finish. And snack later, of course. What we need and what we like typically involve two different food groups. We fill up on one at the sake of the other.
In this culture, meat didn’t happen for 3 square meals a day. I remember translating something in Hebrew 3 class and the prof was getting us to understand the context – he said, “And what time of the year was it? Meat-eatin’ time!” A carnivorous meal typically indicated a feast of some sort. Like all great parties, you get out good stuff. (See? Meat’s not evil.)
The trouble with our lives – and what this story in Daniel reveals – is that we tend to think everything is an occasion to feast. I know because I am Queen of the Justification Strategy. Especially when it involves food. Like a cream cheese dip.
While no harm lies in honoring the small moments of life that bring us great joy, danger lurks when we elevate the significance. We begin to seek the joy instead of the gift. We become little blessing-mongrels, wondering when the next best thing might happen to us, ready to raise our glass.
Nothing is wrong with raising our glass. Until it doesn’t mean anything anymore.
As much as I do think God has a preference toward veggies, this meatless event seems to pull back the covers on a belief that more is… more. If we want to be big, better, best, we ought to get our hands on everything that matches. Choicest meats, fine wines, take our fill, satiate the body. All the time. The more often we eat the best, the better we become.
But what if all of that is actually getting in the way?
What if filling up on everything “good” in life keeps us from the nourishment of that which we really need and are prone to leave out if there’s no room on the plate?
What if constant feasts starve us?
What if we’re consuming so much and it means so little that instead of making us stronger, faster, smarter and better, it’s simply fattening us up? Like Daniel and his friends, if we trimmed down and put the meat in the right place – celebrations of what God has done, not what We have done – then we live at the optimal point where we flourish.
No need to live like a vegetarian. No need to eat like a heathen. Just putting the right things in the right place. Not just on our plates, but in our lives.
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