By Christine Venzon
Have you ever watched those extreme cooking shows on TV? Chefs compete in a slicing, dicing, sauce-boiling frenzy to see who can whip up an entire meal using a single “mystery” ingredient in every dish. As a passionate chef myself, I watch these spectacles as I would a demolition derby. I appreciate creativity, but broccoli ice cream with carrot caramel sauce and corn brittle? (An actual recipe from an actual show.) Well, that’s one way to get the kids to eat their vegetables.
I can’t be too judgmental though. I too have pushed the culinary envelope, and the results have been . . . uneven. For every sweet potato truffles in Irish cream sauce, a mouthwatering success, there’s a vegetarian stuffing bread, politely tasted and then consigned to the recesses of the refrigerator, where it sprouted a coat of furry gray mold.
I don’t know about the pros, but I take my guests’ reactions personally. Praise goes down easily; rejection sticks in my craw. OK, so the stuffing bread was a little dry. And heavy on the sage. And just plain heavy. I put my heart and soul into that bread! The least those people could do is bite the bullet and eat it. (Although, given the choice, they might prefer eating the bullet.) Next time, I’ll just buy one of those mega-serving, microwavable pans of stuffing from Hospital Food Depot.
Apparently I’m something of an extreme chef myself. The “mystery” ingredient in all my dishes is nothing as exotic as cow’s cheek or lotus root (actual ingredients from actual shows). It’s just common, everyday pride. Not the healthy, self-respecting pride. This is the pride of Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall.” I use my love for cooking to feed my own ego rather than feed my guests. And everything comes out tasting like crow.
Return on Investment
To each of us, God has given certain talents, and we’re all encouraged, even obliged, to develop them. For an illustration, consider the parable of the bags of gold (Matthew 25:14-30). Three servants were given bags of gold. The two servants who used the gold to make a profit were praised as “good and faithful.” They were invited to “share your master’s happiness” and entrusted with greater responsibilities.
In contrast, the servant who buried his gold was denounced as “wicked,” “lazy,” and “worthless.” He was cast “into the darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” And the reason is clear: it wasn’t that the servant didn’t return a profit—any master with that much gold lying around doesn’t need the money—it was that he didn’t do anything with the gold at all.
The master had shown faith by entrusting the servants with the means to not only make more money, but to make more of their skills and talents. The first two had shown appreciation and respect for his expectations. The third servant seemed to imply, “No thanks.” And his reason—“I was afraid”—only angered the master further. It showed a lack of faith in the master’s judgment.
All About Me
This desire and duty to make good on our talents is the crevice where pride takes root. It’s pride, for example, that leads us to believe that since “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17), it follows that our gifts must be perfect. That’s not the case. A few years ago in Spain, an amateur painter, with more devotion than artistic talent, tried to restore a nineteenth-century fresco of Christ. The results were disastrous; the painting was ruined. (With divine irony, God still blessed her efforts. A flood of tourists flocking to see the infamous image actually boosted the struggling town’s economy, which also helped support several charities.)
On the other hand, to withhold our talent out of hurt pride can have an equally far-reaching effect. I suspect this was the third servant’s problem. He may have felt snubbed at being given only one bag of gold. In rejecting the Lord’s gift, we pass up a chance to find out where our true, satisfying calling lies. It also denies others the benefits of our service. How many volunteers drop out of a ministry because no one recognized their obvious flair for chairing committees and instead stuck them with stuffing envelopes? And then there’s the prima donna chef who huffed about ungrateful guests. (I never did make it to Hospital Food Depot.)
The stakes can be much higher. Refining our talents takes work on our part, and when we become proficient, even excellent, it’s easy to feel that we have earned our talents, that we deserve them. From there it’s one small step to: the more talented I am, the more deserving I must be—more deserving than less-talented folks. That self-congratulation can create the kind of spiritual minefield that James warns of: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).
As an example, consider baseball player Alex Rodriguez. In 2009, after years of denying it, Rodriguez admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs that were banned in the sport. Rodriguez was already one of the biggest, most popular players in the game, a certified superstar, a future Hall of Famer. So why did he do it? He had just signed a $275 million contract, the richest in baseball history. “I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me,” he said. “I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth being one of the greatest baseball players of all time.”
Easy Repayment Plan
Compare these stories with the biblical account of the building of the temple. “This palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God,” David reminded the Israelites (1 Chronicles 29:1). He pledged his own considerable fortune; they matched him. What’s more, “the people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord” (v. 9).
The Israelites got it. “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power. . . . Yours, Lord, is the kingdom. . . . Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (vv. 11, 14). They weren’t driven by the expectations of the world or the size of their paychecks or their own egos. They understood that all they gave was only a pittance compared to what he had given them. Their humble return was an offering of thanks and praise. Their attitude should be ours.
With God there is no minimum repayment required to reap spiritual blessings. Jesus promised that “anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward” (Mark 9:41). Paul echoed: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). Peter chimed in, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
The idea of humble, self-effacing service can be a hard sell in modern society. But God still gives us role models to remind us. There’s former President Jimmy Carter, quietly nailing 2×4’s for Habitat for Humanity and working to eradicate Guinea worm disease in Africa. There is also Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Before he became Pope Francis, he would visit the homeless on the streets of Buenos Aires, buy them dinner, and eat with them.
Of course not everyone can achieve feats on a scale of Carter or the Pope. Nor should we. I, for one, have made a start by applying their example in my kitchen. I remember the boy in the Gospels who gave his few fish and let the Lord work a miracle. Recently I acquired a copy of Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. There’s a recipe for something called a quenelle. Julia describes it as “a delicate triumph of French cooking.” It’s a cream puff filled with a mousse of puréed raw fish and whipping cream. Do I make such an attempt? Lord, “for the sake of your name, lead and guide me” (Psalm 31:3)—away from the quenelle and instead to my recipe for tuna noodle casserole.
Christine Venzon is a freelance writer in Peoria, Illinois.