Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Hebrews 5:11-14) transports me to the J & S Cafeteria line after church on Sunday, where the incessant barking of Can I serve you a meat sir? and Can I serve you a vegetable ma’am? is getting no response, for adults as well as children are by-passing the solid foods in favor of milk toast and ice cream. The author of this letter to the Hebrews is as irritated as those screaming servers might be, because he has been trying to get the faithful up to speed on some of the meat and potatoes of Jesus’ teaching, but they can’t handle it; they strangle on the solid truths. The writer knows they have been in the Body long enough to be mature in faith, ready to disciple others in the Way of Jesus. They should be ready to face the challenges that lie ahead, but their malnourishment means they are not strong enough to withstand much. It almost sounds like some football coach parodying a playground taunt to a too-soft lineman: baby, baby stick your head in the gravy, don’t take it out until you join the Navy.
I used to love baby food. I mean I loved it well past my baby years. We had a man in the church who worked at Gerber and occasionally brought to our house a big box filled with Gerber products that couldn’t be sold for some reason. I clearly remember receiving my share of taunts in the 7th grade, when I carried my Harlem Globetrotters lunch box to school every day, stocked with a ham-and-cheese loaf sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off, an outdated but still good jar of some Gerber pear or peach puree, and a dented can of Gerber mixed fruit juice. The harassment didn’t bother me; I figured the guys were just jealous, especially on the days when they were having to wash down vinegary spinach or succotash from the line. I eventually lost my lunch box and my affinity for the baby food, and pulled myself up to the table of the adult world. I won’t tell you how long it took.
The Spanish phrase for bon appetit or enjoy your meal is buen provecho, literally, good profit. The Hebrews passage tells us that we have to be nourished on a steady diet of solid teaching on the Way of Christ if we want that diet to be of some profit or benefit to the Body and to the world. Dairy-filled disciples will not be all that beneficial and will fall away in hard times. So let’s wipe off that milk mustache, get our heads out of the gravy, and load up on something that will stick to our bones. Like loving our enemies. Welcoming the strangers. Giving away our stuff. As Wendell Berry said in his manifesto, call that profit. Put that in your lunch box. Buen provecho.
How about you? Where does this pastoral passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.