I knew that customs differ in other parts of the world but I did not know how much. While I was in China, I had the opportunity to observe this first hand.
After our first session we were enjoying some food together and I noticed that there were different ones that would suddenly place additional food on my plate without me indicating in any way that I wanted more. At first I thought that they were just excited to see an American and wanted to show special attention. But then I noticed that there would be two or three bringing me more food at the same time and I began to wonder what was going on. I would be eating my soup and someone would be pouring more soup into my bowl while I was eating it. Another would peal an orange or open a fig, or add more meat. I was getting full and I couldn’t keep up with their hospitality. I said that I didn’t want any more but it kept coming. I certainly didn’t want to offend anyone but I didn’t know how to stop the flow of food, either.
I was raised in a country setting in southern Missouri. We were very poor and food was quite simple. It was beans and taters for the most part. Occasionally we would fry a chicken and if we got tired of the menu we could switch it around and have taters and beans. In the summer we also added the garden veggies and rarely we would have beef or pork if one of the neighbors were butchering. Because times were tough we didn’t waste anything and my parents taught us to always clean our plates. It was the courtesy of the times to show your appreciation by eating everything. The cleaner the plate the better. I also taught my children to clean their plates. The thought of wasting food was never entertained.
Then I went to China and learned that the custom there is quite different. You show your host that you are full by simply to stop eating. If you clean out your plate it means that you are still hungry so they put more on your plate. I didn’t know that so I was trying to empty my plate and sending the wrong message.
I think that sometimes we study the Bible without knowing the customs and miss a lot of it’s meaning, in the same way I did by not knowing the customs and setting. One of my tools in my library is a book titled, The Life and Times of Jesus, The Messiah” by Alfred Edersheim. If you don’t have the book, I suggest that you try to get a copy. It will help you to understand the customs of how it was in Jesus’ time and add meaning to such places as the Lord’s supper and many others.