Thanksgiving dinner is problematic. As the food gets passed around the table, my plate fills up too quickly. It literally overflows. I would say that my eyes are bigger than my stomach, but somehow it all gets in there. I tend to hit Thanksgiving dinner pretty hard. I’m guessing you do to. There are typically two non-negotiable events on Thanksgiving day: (1) gathering around the table to eat, and (2) scattering around the house to sleep off our over-filled stomachs.
What do we do about this? Can we justify this type of gluttony in the name of Thanksgiving?
Gluttony is an interesting concept. We are quick to condemn it, but we may not have as firm a basis for doing so as we think. The Hebrew word for “glutton” is used three times in the Old Testament:
- Deuteronomy 21:20 – “they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’”
- Proverbs 23:20-21 – “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.”
- Proverbs 28:7 – “The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father.”
The Hebrew word generally means “worthless or insignificant,” and can sometimes be used to convey treating something lightly, which is how gluttony relates to eating. We treat food as nothing, so we scarf it down in large amounts.
But look at these verses. Only Proverbs 23 mentions food at all. And even this is not clear. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) explains, “It is possible that the reference is not to the amount of food eaten (i.e. gluttony) but to the manner of banqueting.” The King James Version translates the phrase as “riotous eaters of flesh,” emphasizing the approach to eating rather than the amount eaten.
All this means that the Old Testament tells us very little about gluttony. TWOT summarizes: “The general condemnation of gluttony as a sin rests largely upon the interpretation of this word in these few places.”
When we turn to the New Testament, things get even more interesting. Do you know who the only person to be accused of gluttony in the New Testament is? Jesus!
“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34 and Matthew 11:19)
Have you ever been accused of gluttony? If so, you’re in good company! Jesus celebrated life. He made wine for a wedding celebration. He feasted. So much so that he was accused of being a glutton.
What does all of this mean for our Thanksgiving dinner? It means that we should go for it! Eat more than you normally would. Feasting is a way of enjoying God’s bountiful provision. It’s a way of celebrating the life that God so generously bestows. We don’t need to feel guilty about taking a day to feast.
But we also can’t forget that we need to be good stewards of our bodies. There is more to life than food. Our feasting will sometimes need to be balanced by fasting. And we also need to remember that while we enjoy God’s good gifts, we need to be careful to share those gifts with others. If your Thanksgiving dinner is celebrated with a sense of entitlement that does not care about those around the world who regularly go without food, then you need to repent.
God’s gifts are meant to be enjoyed. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). And God’s gifts are also meant to be shared. So enjoy your Thanksgiving feast, continue to pursue justice in the earth, and continue to care for the poor and to ensure that all of God’s people can share in his good gifts.