Vatican City — When Christians pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," it is a genuine plea reflecting their needs -- needs that Jesus took seriously, even to the point of cooking for his disciples, says Fr. Giovanni Cesare Pagazzi, an Italian theologian.
His book La Cucina del Risorto (The Cooking of the Risen One) will not be published until July, but already has attracted considerable attention in Italy. A long extract was published in the February issue of the monthly Rivista del Clero Italiano.
"The hunger of the starving and the thirst of those who are parched are the hunger and thirst of Jesus, and therefore criteria for the last judgment," Pagazzi writes.
Editrice Missionaria Italiana, the book publisher, describes it as a "small evangelical guide" to the relationship between Christ and cooking based on the premise that "Jesus knew how to cook, practiced the culinary arts, and knew its secrets and traditions."
For Pagazzi, the term "buon pastore" -- good shepherd -- has a double meaning. In Italian, "pasto" is a meal; a "pastore" or shepherd provides food. For Jesus, part of being the good shepherd is being "he who nourishes."
Pagazzi, 49, was born in Italy's Lombard region and holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He has taught Christology since 1996 in seminaries in Lodi and Crema, and is currently a professor at the North Italian Theological Institute in Milan.
Jesus paid attention to the obvious, rather than the exceptional, Pagazzi explains. "His eyes take in the everyday world, which is why he so often spoke in parables" and made so many references to food, the dinner table and banquets.
"A careful reading of the Gospel shows us not only Jesus' liking for conviviality, but also his excellent knowledge of and production and preparation of food," Pagazzi writes. "He knew even the precise dose of yeast to be added to flour in making bread," as demonstrated in Matthew 13:33.
Jesus himself cooked, and "he understood the nutritional properties of bread and fish, but also how to exalt the potentialities of the pleasure this gives," Pagazzi believes. To cook implies care and respect for the guests at the dining table; Jesus' guests would have understood that these were literal foretastes of the future prepared by God.
Food and dining appear in numerous Gospel references: descriptions of wedding feasts; the wealthy man who waits upon his servants at table; the wise administrator who nourishes his workers, and -- particularly -- the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. The miracle of feeding the multitude is so important in the Gospels that it appears six times: twice each in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, and once each in the Gospels of Luke and John.
"We don't know how Jesus prepared fish for his disciples, but with every probability he did," Pagazzi writes; in fact, after the Resurrection, Jesus meets the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. He is standing by a charcoal fire with fish on it. "Come, have breakfast," Jesus says to them in John 21:12, giving them bread and fish.
Jesus' attitude toward food and cooking demonstrates that he "sees good in all things, including those things which accompany the life of every man from the beginning: hunger and food," Pagazzi says.