A story of Jesus cooking is like blessing backpacks, too. Afterall we eat with our noses and eyes almost as much as we eat with our taste buds. Our noses and mouths are intrinsically and physiologically linked rendering the act of eating a completely sensory experience. The food company that employs my spouse has an entire department devoted to analysis of the sensory experience of food. Sensory scientists they are called. Though when I think about the title it seems strange, like this job title might be better suited to artists or poets, to those that qualify and quantify all that we absorb with our senses, and then make sense or beauty of it.
I don’t remember hearing anything ever about Jesus cooking breakfast for the disciples until I had to teach it to preschool children five or six years ago. Since then I’ve pulled a Mary and have pondered these things in my heart ever since. How did I miss this story for so long? Maybe before that I just never paid attention to it because I’d never cooked. I didn’t get it. Or maybe when it was told to me the emphasis was on the supernatural fishing or Jesus telling Peter to feed his sheep after they ate and not on Jesus cooking. Even the heading in the NIV Bible for this final chapter of John calls out the “Miraculous Catch” and not the cooking or the meal.
This story resonates with me in a way that frankly and selfishly the rest of the Jesus stories do not. My daily to-do list doesn’t include getting water from a well or tending sheep or pruning vines but heating food to serve to loved ones is a task to which I can relate to daily, even semi-daily.
I’m all about a story in which Jesus puts on the old grilling apron (maybe his read “Kiss the cook . . . but not you, Judas”) and gets a meal going for his exhausted friends when they get off work. At this point the miracles are not such a big deal anymore. The disciples have seen it all: the lame walking, the blind seeing, the water wine-ing. Let’s face it. To them miracles are now just yada yada yada.
But there’s no miracle on the beach of the Sea of Galillee. This is not catering from heaven or food just appearing instantly per their usual. This is about the process, it’s about getting the fire going and hanging out around it while the coals get good and glowy. It’s about creating a welcoming food aroma that invites the disciples to join their heavenly host.
Life will be hard for these men once Jesus is gone and the Holy Ghost comes. Most of these friends will die for the sake of this cook, this Son of Man, and nobody knows that but him. So he does what any man might do for his buddies. He makes a meal so they can be together one last time before he goes away again.
I take great comfort and delight in thinking of the Master, the Creator God himself, attending to the minutia of meal planning. Think of Jesus deciding where everyone would sit, making space for each beloved guest, unpacking the loaves of bread from a burlap sack and tearing them into portions. Think of Jesus prepping the fish to cook–gutting them, maybe stuffing them with garlic and olives and tarragon before putting them on the fire. It’s all so fresh and rustic it could have been an episode of No Reservations.
Meanwhile the only thing bigger than the 153-fish haul the fishermen are trying to heave ashore (which they don’t yet realize is a metaphor for the Kingdom work yet to be done) is the size of their appetites. They’ll get a lot of money for these fish and they’re prepared to pay whoever’s cooking for whatever smell so good. Had they birthrights, they might have impulsively sold them in exchange for breakfast. They never would have guessed this meal was already theirs.
When they get to shore Jesus asks them for some of the fish they just caught and gets those on the fire, too, while he listens to them laugh exhaustedly about trying to bring in those overstuffed nets. Think of the dawn sky, the sounds of the day waking, the smell of smoke in the still-early chill, the crackle of the fire that circles everybody up, faces and hands to flame.
There’s something about Jesus the man–who during his ministry probably didn’t fuss over food, wasn’t basing his ministry travels around his favorite places to eat, wasn’t plastering his insta-feed with photos to make his foodie friends jealous. The disciples had probably always known him to be busy doing important missional kingdom things and trusting that at the end of the day, the God-man and his crew would get fed by one of the more generous and thoughtful followers. This is not to say he wouldn’t have appreciated good food, just that he wasn’t planning his route around his appetite the way, you know, some of us do.
When I think of those disciples–especially the now sopping wet Simon Peter who had to swim to Jesus because the boat was just taking too long–and their reactions to Jesus’ breakfast on the beach I picture my 22 year-old brother Christian (really, that’s his real name). He’s loud, passionate, animated, pierced and tatted up and exuberantly lovable. He always finds a way to shower my own less-than-divine cooking with compliments. So if the cook were actually the God-man he’d be all, “This smells amazing! So that whole time you were this phenomenal cook AND YOU NEVER TOLD US?! Whaaat?!” (doubled over in awe and laughter, then back up, eyes pinched shut, arms and fingers extended like tree branches). They thought they knew this guy and they thought they knew he’d died and gone away. But there’s way more to him, more to his humanity even, than they ever knew.
Maybe it’s like a dad one day out of the blue offering to french braid his daughter’s hair while they’re watching TV. “What?! Dad, seriously? You have braiding skills?! Since when?! How did you learn?! How did I not know this?!” There’s some of that here–there’s something about Jesus as the died-and-risen Lord of All, as the ultimate King-Dad-friend-holy guy taking on the very earthbound service and detail-oriented role of cook.
I can only liken it to when my dad makes hobo eggs for breakfast at a campsite for all the family. He hardly ever cooked when I was a kid so it was this special camping-only fresh air treat of a meal. It’s not about gender roles or a man doing “women’s work.” It’s about the revelation that their their Abba is mysteriously back, appearing again for the third time and doing this uncharacteristic thing–for them and only them.
They knew Jesus was special–that his wisdom was like none other, that he acted decisively and intentionally like no other, that he was a teacher without fear, with mysterious authority, ripe with love and justice. But this just blows away everything they thought they knew. “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus says and that combined with the glorious aromatics of delicious cooking overrides that little bit of fear they might have always had in his presence.
I’m not surprised Jesus chose to meet the disciples where they were, back in their old pre-disciple rhythms of daily life. It probably felt really good to get back to fishing, to what they knew. He meets them where they are. I’m not surprised he cooked on the beach. Food and drink always smell better, taste better cooked and consumed in the open air. Could a sensory scientist prove that? I don’t know. I only know after hours of work outside protein charred over an open flame, seasoned with salt and freedom, smell and taste something like God meeting us.