Fast Food Religion

The following meditation was written by Doug Hood’s son,
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University
Look! I’m standing at the door and knocking. If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to be with them, and will have dinner with them, and they will have dinner with me.
Revelation 3:20 (Common English Bible)

We live in a world of fast food religion. In the breathless hustle and bustle of modern life, we all too often find ourselves without the time, without the means, or without the energy to devote ourselves fully to belief, so we settle for bite-sized servings of faith, prepackaged, precooked, pre-delivered. Difficult concepts and truths get chopped, frozen, and flash-fried into simple aphorisms and decontextualized verses to give ourselves a warm, fuzzy feeling of comfort. Consider Revelation 3:20, a favorite of fast food religion, one that promises that Jesus is at the door to our lives knocking, waiting for us to let him in. Go to any store that sells religious tchotchkes and you’ll inevitably find a refrigerator magnet or painting referencing this verse, usually featuring a barefoot, white-robed Jesus expectantly knocking on a literal door, eager to be let inside. The message is simple: Jesus is always there, waiting to be let into our lives if only we’d listen. And yes, Jesus is always at the door of our lives, knocking to be let inside. But much like a fast food cheeseburger, slightly cold and greasy, it only provides so much nutrition, and one certainly can’t sustain a healthy diet eating it every day. The truth, the deeper meaning, is much more complicated and difficult. But much like a proper home-cooked meal, prepared with love and careful attention, the results are worth the effort.
The key to understanding this verse is its larger context within the book of Revelation. To most, the last book of the Bible is a wellspring of apocalyptic visions and awe-full imagery—multi-headed dragons and multi-colored horsemen wreaking havoc on a doomed world of unrepentant sinners. But the book itself was actually a letter written to the “Seven Churches of Asia” located in modern day Turkey that made up much of early Christendom. As such, the first several chapters of Revelation are highly specific messages admonishing and encouraging them. Revelation 3:20 is part of the larger message to the church in Laodicea, the easternmost of the seven and also one of the wealthiest, an ancient banking hub and manufacturer of medicinal eye salve and a luxurious black wool used for expensive black clothing. Such was their wealth that within the span of a few decades they managed to completely rebuild their city not once but twice following a series of deadly earthquakes—and all without imperial aid. And what does John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, say to this city of wealth and luxury? “You don’t realize that you are miserable, pathetic, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17 CEB)
Take a closer look at 3:20, specifically what John writes after the over-digested bit about God knocking at their door. I will come in and have dinner with them, he writes, and they will have dinner with me. Biblical scholars believe that John wasn’t being metaphorical here but literal—the meal is the sacrament of communion, and Christ is asking to be let in to share it. All this begs the question: how were the Laodiceans eating? The answer, again according to biblical scholars, was probably at the tables of their Roman neighbors, feasting on the sacred meat sacrificed to pagan gods, the consumption of which ensured upward financial mobility and consolidated class status. The Laodiceans church may have been Christians, but they were lukewarm ones who compromised their faith with foreign rituals to increase and protect their wealth.
Suddenly Revelation 3:20 doesn’t fit the mold of fast food religion anymore. It’s no pithy reminder of God’s omnipotence, but a call to reject the world of its sinful trappings and to embrace the true community of Christ. Turn away from the meat of the Romans and partake of the bread of Christ, it commands; drink from the living water promised to the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospel of John from which none ever thirst again. To sit at this table, to eat of this meal is to set oneself apart from the world and all its alluring trappings. It’s a difficult order, particularly for those accustomed to luxury and easy living. But it’s a necessary one. Only then can the banquet—home-cooked and piping hot—truly begin.


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