Some might think that this particular proverb is reason to preach vegetarianism - but the point of this proverb is not the content of your meals as much as it is the spirit in which you partake of them. The dish of vegetables is actually seen as far less sumptuous fare than the fattened ox. The difference here is what is going on while you are sharing your meal with others. The vegetables, though not nearly as fancy as the fattened ox, are better because they are seasoned with love. As a pastor I've had the joy of sharing meals with families. Some of the most precious meals I've enjoyed in my 30 years as a pastor have been shared with some of the poorest of people. The meals, though simple, were liberally seasoned with love and precious fellowship. It was such a blessing to sit at such a table.
The proverb compares the simple fare of a dish of vegetables with the food of a rich man's feast. To have a fattened ox was about as special as it got in Israel. If you remember, the father of the prodigal son ordered that the fattened calf be served when his son came home. It was a time of glorious celebration - and only the best was to be served. But what this proverb tells us is that the fattened ox served by the rich man was seasoned with hatred. Though a wonderful culinary delight was served - it was served by someone who hated their guests. This is a strange kind of hospitality indeed. They have guests - but only to get what they can from them. They invite their guests to their high-class affairs to put them in their debt - so that at a later date they can collect what they are owed. The worst of these parties are the ones that are done for people they absolutely despise - but they do it anyway because then everyone there will owe them favors. This is a meal destined for relational indigestion. The food may taste good - but will only sour in their stomach as the problem of having to deal with their host comes to the surface. There is no love - only hatred and a desire to be owed or owned.
Consider the practice of bringing food to a client from whom you desire sales. The saleesman may not even like the person - but feeds them to gain their business. Consider the political fund raising event where the purpose of it is not to enjoy good fellowship. The purpose is to separate those attending from their money at the end of the evening. Consider all these events - and many more where tasty and sumptuous food is served - but the core reason you are invited has nothing to do with true fellowship or heartfelt love.
So our writer warns us that in situations where you are offered the finest of culinary delights - you need to check your own heart - and seek to discern the heart of those who feed you. it is better to be served vegetables than for expensive food to be placed before you with hidden motives. This is not for reasons of frugality, nor it is meant to be a call to vegetarianism. Actually, it is a warning against false hospitality and the expectations that often come with it. It is a warning to partake of true fellowship - even if it is over celery and water. It is a call for all of us to be active "love-etarians." Even though "love-etarian" is not a real word, I think we can all understand what is being said to us. That lesson is this: In the end, fellowship with love will always trump hatred and fine dining. One may fill your stomach - but the other fills your soul.