Why did Jesus eat the fish? Are there toilets in heaven?

This Sunday, the lectionary invites us to ponder Luke 24:36b-48. The English Standard Version supplies the passage with the title “Jesus Appears to His Disciples.” It also supplies headings to the preceding passages in the chapter. The headings are “The Resurrection” and “On the Road to Emmaus.”

In my column “The fish, the water, and the resurrection,” I discussed how the disciples learned of the resurrection of Jesus.

In summary, some women went to the tomb, in Jerusalem, to apply spices to Jesus’ body. They found the entrance to the tomb was open, and Jesus’ body wasn’t there. And an angel told them Jesus had been raised from the dead and had gone ahead to meet them in Galilee, just as he had promised.

Luke tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to two of the disciples as they walked from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. He adds that one of them was named Cleopas.

Luke tells us that Jesus called Cleopas and his companion “foolish” because they couldn’t grasp the resurrection; that he explained the scriptures to them, showed them the resurrection was a fulfilment of scripture. He also pointedly tells us they didn’t know it was Jesus walking and talking with them until the very last minute when he vanished.

In response, the pair immediately returned to Jerusalem and described their experience to the Apostles, the men whom Jesus had handpicked and kept close to him. And while they were speaking, Jesus appeared among them. Here begins our passage for Sunday.

His first words to them were “Peace be with you.” I discussed this in my column titled “Jesus wished them peace in their terror.” In summary, Jesus spoke the words of peace to encourage us to make bold as his ambassadors, to speak on his behalf.

In the present passage, Luke tells us Jesus asked for food and ate it in their presence:

41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

Why did Jesus ask for food? Why fish? Was he hungry? And what about his digestive system? Were there bacteria in his guts? Did he need to use the toilet?

We ask because we know there was something very different about him. He could enter closed, locked buildings. He had holes in his hands and side, in the places where he had been nailed and pierced. Even his closest associates didn’t instantly recognize him.

And we know what the apostle Paul says about resurrection bodies.

We read in 1 Corinthians 6:13a:

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other.

And we read in 1 Corinthians 15:44:

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

And we read in 1 Corinthians 15:50:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Clearly Paul urges us to believe our resurrection bodies will be different.

There are at least two examples in the Bible of eating, in this world, by residents of another world.

Recall the three visitors to Abraham. Abraham prepared a meal for them, and they ate it. We read in Genesis 18:8

“Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

Recall that the following chapter, Genesis 19, tells us two of the angelic visitors also ate with Lot and his family.

So, what are we to make of Luke – alone of all the Evangelists – telling us that Jesus ate after he was resurrected?

I’m drawn to this suggestion by Gerald O’Collins:

… one can reasonably suppose two movements which the evangelist wishes to combat when writing his gospel in the seventies or eighties.

On the one hand, Luke could be answering those within the Christian community who over-spiritualize the resurrection or even deny it while maintaining the continuing, personal existence of Jesus’ spirit.

On the other hand, the evangelist may be also responding to outside critics who reject that Jesus appeared as bodily risen from the dead and allege that the disciples experienced some ghostly phantom or even a mere figment of their imagination.

Two other aspects of Luke’s account are worth pondering. First, Cleopas and his friend are taught, and then, Jesus reveals himself to them. But the sequence is reversed for the disciples in the locked room in Jerusalem – Jesus reveals himself to them, and then, he teaches them and commissions them. Second, Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem, not in Galilee.

The point is not the sequence or the location.[1] The point is fellowship with Jesus, fellowship expressed by eating together. O’Collins, at the end of his study titled “Did Jesus Eat the Fish?” summarizes it well:

[The fish-eating] conveys the bodily reality and true appearance of the risen Lord to his chosen body of witnesses. It signifies his genuine resurrection from the dead, with the “new life” and “great joy” which that entails.

That’s Luke’s purpose.

Luke’s purpose is to tell us the disciples experienced new life and great joy in the company of the resurrected Jesus – and that we should too.

Luke’s purpose is not to answer our curiosity about life in the new heaven and new earth. We’re only told what we need to know in order to enjoy him and to serve as his witnesses on this present earth.

Peace be with you.

[1] Though the differences do tell us there was no attempt to alter the original writings to “harmonize” them. There is in the scriptures, “the ring of truth,” as Bible translator J B Phillips put it long ago.

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