By Ed Sciulli
It’s summertime and therefore peak grilling season. Although to be honest, I tend to grill in every season - rain, snow or shine.
I attribute this to my upbringing. I grew up around the campfire and sustained myself on the grill. I spent my middle and high school years camping; being heavily involved in scouting. I learned quickly to cook for myself because I liked to eat food that wasn’t under or overcooked. If nothing else in those scouting years, I ate well.
As time went on, my involvement in other high school activities kept me home some weekends when my parents would travel to see family. As long as there was something to grill, I had no problem staying home for a practice or rehearsal. I could take care of myself, and never once burned the house down. Even later, my first gathering with a new community of students as I pursued my master’s degree had me cooking over the grill.
The grill is one of favorite places to be; near the coals, preparing a meal.
And then, I learned this interesting little tidbit: the greek word for charcoal appears exactly twice in the new testament. Both in the gospel of John. (A slightly different word appears in Romans.)
The first instance is after Jesus’ arrest. He is taken arrested and taken from the garden and led into courtyard of the high priest. Peter and another disciple follow Jesus and Peter finds himself standing around fire to keep warm with some servants of the high priest. It was here, around the embers, the anthrakia in the greek, that Peter denies Jesus.
You know the next part of the story. Jesus is found guilty in a mock trial, is beaten and handed over to be crucified. He dies, is buried and on the third day (just as He predicted), He comes back and appears to Mary Magdalene. Later, He appears to some other disciples hiding in a room, and then to Thomas the doubter (or the empiricist, as I like to call him). And then, Peter and boys go fishing…
A group of disciples including Peter, John, Nathaniel and Thomas go fishing. They catch nothing, but a bad day fishing is better than a good day working. Then some guy from the shore yells at them, telling them to try the right side of the boat.
So many fish they can’t haul them into the boat. John realizes that it’s Jesus first, then Peter. Peter leaps out of the boat and swims to shore, followed by the other disciples in the boat. Jesus tells them to bring some the fish they had just caught and He prepares a meal for them, over the coals.
Over the anthrakia.
After they ate, Jesus asks Peter three times if He loves Him. Three times to parallel the three denials, both over the embers, over the charcoal. These parallels aren’t accidents. They are the poetics of the gospel story; little callbacks to remind us of where we’ve been and where we are and where we are going and that He is in control of it all. They are not simply word games; but the method by which God uses our language to remind us of truth in ways that go beyond the words.
So when one word is used only twice in all of the new testament like this, you can be sure that they are linking these stories to tell us something deep about our lives in Him. That our failures are wiped away by Jesus as we gather to break bread with Him.
And that’s why you don’t grill over propane.