"Sorry, Charlie. We don't want tuna with good taste. We want tuna that tastes good."

Posted August 9th, 2009

By Fr. Tom Seitz
Fr. Tom Seitz

“Sorry, Charlie. We don’t want tuna with good taste. We want tuna that tastes good.”

That was the message lowered on a fishing hook in a series of animated television commercials by Star-Kist back in the 80’s. Charlie was cast as a hip and cultured tuna, sporting a beret and glasses, demonstrating his “good taste” by playing on a grand piano, or painting on a canvass or practicing ballet or some other high-art activity at the beginning of each commercial, only to be reminded, “Sorry, Charlie. We don’t want tuna with good taste. We want tuna that tastes good.”

I think it’s fait to ask ourselves, “Why in the world is Charlie trying so hard, even in the wrong way, and why is he so upset that no one wants to drag him away from his home with a hook, slice him into little pieces, and pack him into cans for human consumption?” It’s understandable, from a human, consumer point-of-view, why good tasting tuna is desirable, but it’s much less obvious, and in fact it seems creepy and crazy that a tuna would actually want to be treated this way.

When we apply this same narrative logic of Charlie the Tuna to Jesus and the Gospel, however, it offers us a fresh appreciation for the unbelievable nature of God’s love for you and me.

Think about it. Jesus is not a lower form of animal life offering himself to the world on the cross in order to sustain our higher form of human biological existence, even though one of the Psalms does suggest that at that it was tempting for Jesus on the cross to think of himself as a worm, and not as a man. We know, however, that Jesus was not only a man who laid down his life for his fellow human beings, but that he was the very highest possible form of a human being, a human being who was also of one being with God, sharing divine nature as well as our own human nature.

And just as there have been many who find Jesus’ death and our understanding of that death to be even creepier or crazier than Charlie the Tuna’s desire to become part of your lunch or dinner, that is nonetheless what we believe, that God wants to give himself to us so that we may live, and not just live biologically for a few days, but forever, because that is what Jesus claimed to be when he said that he was the living bread which has come, not from the depths of the sea, but from the very highest heights of heaven.

I have often commented on the fact that worshipping in the Episcopal Church is like going to a two-act opera with a brief intermission between acts. Act One revolves around the Bible and Act Two revolves around the Lord’s Table. Our setting, our liturgical opera house, if you will, with our stained glass and ornate furniture, is uncommon and strange to many contemporary people. Our music is also different. Most people today don’t listen to organs or sing hymns or the words of our liturgical scripts. No one wears an acolyte robe to school or a chasuble to work. Visitors might be put off by our worship. They might be tempted, at least at first, to think we’re acting a little like Charlie the Tuna, trying to impress God with our good taste in music and art and fashion, so that he will accept us into his kingdom, rather than understanding that what we are doing is actually a sincere offering of praise and thanksgiving to God, an offering that many visitors to our baptisms and weddings and funerals, as well as our Sunday Eucharist, find especially good tasting and spiritual nourishing.

Even at its best, however, our offering of praise and thanksgiving to God is grounded in our recognition that Jesus must have very common taste indeed to associate with the likes of us, with all our sin and human pretense. Any spiritual airs that we may try to put on are just that, airs, a silly act, like Charlie the Tuna, which fools no one, least of all Jesus. The fact is, Jesus has incredibly poor taste in associating with you and me in the first place, but it is equally true that his condescension is motivated by a love and a goodness which tastes better than anything else in the world. No one or nothing tastes as good as Jesus.

The Psalmist invites us this morning to taste and see that the Lord is good. And it is in our growing recognition that nothing and no one tastes as good as the Lord that we are able to believe that God even wants us to become his children and to even imitate him, to become as tasty to others as we have found his Son to be for us, as we literally ingest his divine life, his Body and Blood, like the most life-changing stem cells of all.

I was taught in Sunday School, and I believed it in my head and even in my heart for many years, that the Bible contained the very Word of God, and that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, which is what those forty years in the wilderness were meant to teach the Jews and us as well, but it was not until I actually started chewing and inwardly digesting the words of Scripture that my stomach and every cell of my body also experienced it, knew just how tasty the word of God really is.

I read an article by an art critic this week who was bemoaning the fact that fewer and fewer people are actually listening to jazz, one of our rare and invaluable national treasures. Jazz has apparently become high-art, along with classical music and opera and ballet, with ever diminishing audiences. As he points out, it does no good to say to the next generation, Stravinsky or Schubert are composers you should like. What must be done for classical music, as now for jazz, and also, and most importantly, as far as I am concerned, with Jesus, is to give people a taste so that they can see for themselves that God is good, not just to think about, not just to feel in our hearts, not just to admire with our eyes or appreciate with our ears or praise with our lips, but to receive into our very flesh and blood as good beyond anything else in creation, even Star-Kist tuna.

That is why Jesus institutes the sacrament of his Body and Blood, so that we can receive him bodily, so that our bodies as well as our minds and hearts and spirits can be transformed by his grace, so that we can imitate Jesus, and do even greater things with our own bodies than he did with his when he lowered himself to become a human being like us, except without sin.

Paul explains it this way in his letter to the Ephesians: when the divine life of Christ gets into our bodies, we discover that being generous to those in need is actually more satisfying, actually tastes much better, than stealing from those who have more than we do; that building up the people and the institutions around us is actually more satisfying, actually tastes better, than just being critical and tearing people and institutions down; that being kind and tender-hearted and forgiving towards others, even our enemies, tastes much better than any satisfaction we may find in being bitter or angry or malicious.

We should not be ashamed of the fact that, unlike Charlie the Tuna, who thought the purpose of life was to associate with people of good taste, Jesus demonstrates in his own life and death that what people really want and long for is the transforming taste of God’s goodness.

As redeemed sinners, we know that Jesus has poor taste in associating with the likes of us, but we also thank him again and again that he is willing to share his divine life with us, to allow his body to be broken and his blood poured out so that we can discover again and again that he tastes so good that we not only want to be like him too, but that his goodness actually enables us to be like him, to imitate him, even to the point where we can dare offer our own lives as a tasty sacrifice, trusting that joining with Christ in his sacrifice will be worth it when those around us taste the goodness in our sacrifices and recognize them as the very goodness of Christ living in and through us.

And let us never forget, that unlike Charlie’s message from Star-Kist, “Sorry, Charlie. You don’t taste good enough for human consumption,” God’s message to us is and always will be, “Come, taste the goodness of my Son so that you may taste divine too.” AMEN.