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Let's Eat: The Role of Meals in the Bible and How Christians Can Use Them Today

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A review of the role food and meals play in the Bible story, with a special emphasis on Jesus' meals and what practices Christians can use to have meaningful meals today.

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The subject of our lesson today is one that is near and dear to all of our hearts: the subject of food! While we all may have our own preferences concerning which foods we favor, all of us enjoy food. I’ve never known a person that didn’t enjoy a good meal. Deeper than our enjoyment of food, however, is the fact that all of us need food. There is not a person alive who does not need the sustenance provided by food. Thus, in a very real way, food is a great unifier. Rich and poor, young and old, men and women - no matter how you break up and classify people, all of us must eat to survive. Thus, since food is essential and can also be enjoyable, it can unify people in more ways than simply our shared reliance on it.
From ancient days, meals have been a means of getting together for various purposes. We use meals to celebrate and to mourn. Meals are used to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and special achievements. Companies often provide meals at corporate gatherings; schools provide meals for students; and of course there is the familiar scene of the church pot-luck. And while it has largely and sadly disappeared from contemporary American life, there are few greater pictures of family love and unity than the family sharing a meal together at the dinner table.
As with other blessings, we can abuse food. We can be gluttonous. We can covet the delicate meals of others. We can greedily hold on to what we have without being willing to share with those in need. But when we have the proper attitude towards food and its purpose, we can actually use it in powerful and helpful ways. As I said, food and meals can be a great unifier.
For our sermon this morning, I want to take a brief look at the role food plays in the Bible. We’ll see how food is present from the very beginning of Scripture until the very end. Afterwards, we will pay special attention to the role meals played in the life and work of Jesus. Lastly, we’ll review a few ways in which we can uses meals in order to grow spiritually and to serve others.

Food and Meals in the Old Testament

God’s Provision: When God created man, one of the primary elements of His provision was that of food. After commanding Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and to have dominion over all the earth, He said
When God created man, one of the primary elements of His provision was that of food. After commanding Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and to have dominion over all the earth, He said
Genesis 1:29 ESV
29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
Genesis 1:
The Garden of Eden is described as a place where God made trees which were “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Adam and Eve were permitted to eat the fruit of every tree save that of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, this becomes the source of mankind’s first sin and rebellion. While God had richly blessed man with the provision of food, Satan tempted man with food. He used the forbidden fruit to entice Eve and Adam away from God’s clear commands. Thus, food is at the very center of man’s beginning, and the beginning of man’s downfall in sin.
Other Meals in Genesis: After the fall, we find meals throughout the Genesis story, and in a variety of contexts. In , when Abraham is returning from rescuing Lot and the people of Sodom, he is met by a man named Melchizedek, who is described as the King of Salem and priest of God Most High. Abraham would give a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek, but we’re told that Melchizedek brought out “bread and wine” and blessed Abraham. Whether this meal was merely a form of hospitality or a sacred meal of some type is not spelled out, but it was significant enough to be recorded in Scripture.
One of the last and perhaps most tender meal scenes in Genesis is the meal in which Joseph reveals himself to his brethren in Egypt. The meal was not a mere form of hospitality, but a powerful scene of reunion and forgiveness.
One of the last and perhaps most tender meal scenes in Genesis is the meal in which Joseph reveals himself to his brethren in Egypt. The meal was not a mere form of hospitality, but a powerful scene of reunion and forgiveness.
Both scenes in which Jacob takes his brother’s birthright involve food. First, he withholds food from his starving brother and negotiates for Esau’s birthright. Later, he tricks his father by not only dressing in a way to fool Isaac, but also by having a special meal prepared for Isaac that was typically a meal Esau prepared for his father, thus tricking Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing instead of Esau.
One of the last and perhaps most tender meal scenes in Genesis is the meal in which Joseph reveals himself to his brethren in Egypt. The meal was not a mere form of hospitality, but a powerful scene of reunion and forgiveness.
The Great Hebrew Feast: One of the greatest and most meaningful meals in the Bible finds its beginnings in . Before the final plague on Egypt, Moses delivered God’s will to the people concerning a meal that would become a great and central feast of the Jewish religion - the Passover. It is interesting that God chose a meal to symbolize His provision for and deliverance of His people. When the Law was later given, the Passover was to become an annual celebration - a perpetual reminder of God’s deliverance and mercy on the Hebrew people. The remembrance wasn’t just a matter of retelling a story though. Every year the people were to reenact the scene and enjoy the passover meal in their homes. Passover was not the only feast to be found on the religious calendar of the Jews however. There were other feasts throughout the year that brought the people together to worship God and remember and praise His goodness. Again, isn’t it interesting that God used such a fundamental concept as meals to give His people a method of coming together and remembering Him?
Meals among the Kings: There are many meals mentioned in the times of the kings, and we don’t have time to discuss them all. I will call our attention to one great story - that of David and Mephibosheth. In David wanted to find a survivor among the house of Saul, not for vengeance but to show kindness for the sake of his great friend Jonathan. There was one son of Jonathan, a man named Mephibosheth who was a cripple. David found the man out, and brought him into his own home to take care of him. The end of that story says, “So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table.” To fully represent David’s kindness, provision, and mercy, the greatest example was that of Mephibosheth eating at the king’s table. And how great an honor that truly is. Enemies don’t eat at the king’s table. Only the closest and dearest to the king get to eat at his table. Keep that though in mind as we consider other examples in a moment.
The Psalms: Throughout the Psalms, there are times when food is used once again to show God’s provision for His people. Perhaps the clearest example is , “You prepare a table before me....My cup overflows....I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The Prophets: Throughout the prophets there are various ways in which food and meals are used, but we will mention just one prominent and powerful image. Multiple times there are references to the Messianic age and the deliverance the Messiah would provide, and the language used is that of a great feast or banquet. Remember, to dine at the King’s table is a great honor. The prophets spoke of a time when not just a few, but all of God’s children would dine at the table of the King. What a promise! Just a couple examples from Isaiah:
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 14:12–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles. Throughout the prophets there are various ways in which food and meals are used, but we will mention just one prominent and powerful usage. Multiple times there are references to the Messianic age and the deliverance the Messiah would provide, and the language used is that of a great feast or banquet. Remember, to dine at the King’s table is a great honor. The prophets spoke of a time when not just a few, but all of God’s children would dine at the table of the King. What a promise! Just a couple examples from Isaiah:
Isaiah 25:6 ESV
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Isaiah 55:1–2 ESV
1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Meals play various roles in the Old Testament, but often they remind us of God’s provision. They also exemplify hospitality, closeness, friendship, and unity. Table fellowship is an intimate thing. It is a time to draw together; it is a time to learn from one another; it is a time to serve one another; and most of all it is a time for us to remember and to remind one another of God’s love, mercy, provision, and deliverance.

Food and Meals in the New Testament

To review food in the New Testament, we must be brief if we are going to spend special time on Jesus’ meals. But consider the following:
The Lord’s Supper: Just as God used a meal as a central point of worship in the Old Testament, so he uses a meal as a central point of worship under the New Covenant. Of all the ways God could have mandated for Christians to remember Christ’s sacrifice, He gave us a meal. A simple meal, and yet a feast. But why a meal? Perhaps because as a meal, it draws us together. It is a memorial that we each partake of as individuals, but a memorial that cannot be partaken of alone. It mandates and requires closeness; togetherness, unity, and fellowship. It is truly a communion - a joint participation. Christ’s blood unifies us as forgiven sinners, and the memorial meal of the Lord’s Supper reminds us not only of Jesus’ great sacrifice, but of the unity and fellowship we have together in Him.
Meals in the Early Church: Just as food is used to show God’s provision for His creation, food shows how Christians cared for one another from the beginning of the Church. In the earliest description of the Christian community, says:
Acts 2:46 ESV
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
While there is debate over exactly what they were, Peter and Jude both refer to “feasts” or “love feasts” the Christians partook in. While some believe that is the Lord’s Supper, it seems more likely they were separate meals and feasts that were not a part of the corporate worship, but simply part of Christian fellowship and togetherness. In fact, meals among Christians were so common and important that Paul tells the Corinthians to cease eating with Christians who persist in sin and rebellion. Obviously, that must have meant something - the table fellowship Christians enjoyed was a great blessing - one that when removed, would truly cause a person to reevaluate their choices.
And just as the Old Testament prophets look forward to a “Messianic Banquet,” so too the New Testament’s book of prophecy points our eyes forward to dining with the King. speaks of those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. In the Bible’s closing chapter, , the tree of life is recovered once more, and in words similar to , says,
Revelation 22:17 ESV
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
Yes, meals find their ways woven into the fabric of the story of redemption from the beginning of time until the picture of eternity. But now let us turn our attention especially to Jesus and how He used meals in His work.

Jesus’ Meals

Jesus’ meals are a fascinating and detailed study all their own, so we will have to be brief. We’ll look at them in groups: Jesus’ meals with His disciples; meals with Pharisees; and meals with outcasts.

Meals with Disciples

While the meal itself is not prominent, the first “sign” or miracles in John’s gospel is the turning of water into wine at a wedding feast. Surely it was strange to the first disciples, many or all of whom had been disciples of John the Baptist, to see such a switch. John lived in the deserts and ate plain fair. Now this Jesus they are following goes straight to a wedding feast. But the celebratory scene is a perfect fit for He who is the Bridegroom. Jesus’ coming was something to celebrate, and while Jesus ministry never was a matter of drunkenness and gluttony, meals and feasts were a regular part of it. Jesus used the closeness of a meal to influence others and teach them the good news.
Jesus wasn’t just interested in meals. He was interested in impacting people. We see that in the scene of , when He is invited into the home of Martha and Mary. Once again, the meal isn’t a prominent feature, but it is in the background as Martha is busying herself with meal prep. Jesus isn’t just there for the food and relaxation though. He is using the private time to teach those present, including Mary. Hospitality is important for many reasons, not least of which is that homes and meals are excellent places and times for us to teach and learn.
Hospitality is important for many reasons, not least of which is that homes and meals are excellent places and times for us to teach and learn.
The only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four gospels is Jesus feeding the 5,000: a miracle involving food and a meal. A miracle in which Jesus cared for the crowds that followed Him. He pitied their need, and gave them provision. This miracle pointed to His ability to not only give physical food, but to be “the bread of life” as He would teach in . If we work at it, we can use the physical dinner table to point others to the bread of life also.
Of course there is the final Passover meal with Jesus’ disciples which also leads to the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Just one thing to mention in this study is how Jesus used the opportunity to serve the disciples. It was during this event that Jesus washed the disciple’s feet and taught them a great lesson on humility and service. Opening our homes and sharing our food is not just a nice thing to do, it is a manner in which we can truly serve others.
After Jesus’ resurrection, we see meals in interesting places. In we read the account of Jesus travelling with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The men don’t know it’s Jesus, but He teaches them concerning the Scriptures. That evening, they invite Him in to dine with them, and it is when he blessed the food and began to break the bread that they finally recognized it was the risen Lord. Sometime later, John tells us of a post-resurrection scene when Jesus appeared by the Sea of Tiberias. The disciples had been out fishing, and when they come in what is Jesus doing? We’re told He had a fire going and was cooking fish and bread. He was making breakfast for them! It was over this breakfast that He would talk with Peter - a discussion that was essentially Peter’s (and the other disciple’s) reinstatement of sorts. Thus the meal became a place of reconciliation and forgiveness, as well as a call to greater work.

Meals with Pharisees

Many people note Jesus’ willingness to eat with outcasts like tax-collectors and sinners, but we should also recognize Jesus was just as likely and willing to eat with Pharisees. Multiple times in the Gospels various Pharisees invited Jesus to a dinner, and Jesus went. While Jesus harshly rebuked the Pharisees on multiple occasions (including some of these very dinners!) He was never unwilling to sit down and eat with them.
In Jesus accepted such an invitation, and during the meal a sinful woman entered and washed Jesus’ feet with ointment, her tears, and her hair! The Pharisee was appalled, but Jesus used the opportunity to teach the Pharisee about forgiveness, and it became a scene in which the woman was given forgiveness by Jesus.
In Jesus accepts another invitation by the Pharisees, but the dinner turns into a heated discussion in which Jesus pronounces several woes upon the Pharisees. This happened because the Pharisee was once again appalled, this time because Jesus’ did not observe all the traditions of washing that the Pharisees viewed to highly. Once again, Jesus used the opportunity of a meal to teach. It may have been heated and strong teaching, but He was telling those present what they needed in order to change and be saved.
Lastly, in Jesus dines with a ruler of the Pharisees on the Sabbath. On this occasion, Jesus healed a man of dropsy and rebuked the Pharisees of their callous hyprocrisy. Again, Jesus wasn’t afraid of eating with those who were His enemies. He was willing to sit and eat with them and use the opportunity to teach them. Also, we see this scene as a scene of healing and service on the part of Jesus towards the man in need.

Meals with Outcasts

While Jesus ate with the religious elite, He was also happy to share meals with those on the opposite end of the spectrum. In fact, it was this very practice that often angered the Pharisees and others. But Jesus used the opportunities He had to influence and serve others in the greatest of ways. This included opportunities to partake in that simplest and oldest of rituals: sharing a meal together.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that after Jesus called Matthew to become a disciple, the ex-tax collector held a feast for Jesus. Besides Jesus, who came to this feast? Tax collectors and sinners! Why was that? Probably because that’s the crowd Matthew had known as a tax-collector. When he began following Jesus, he used a feast to bring those he knew to meet Jesus as well! Inviting people to church is a great thing, but sometimes a more meaningful way of really sharing the gospel with someone is inviting them to dinner, and using the opportunity to introduce them to the gospel. Also, it’s clear Jesus didn’t eat with tax-collectors and sinners just to have a good time. When criticized for His practice by the Pharisees, Jesus’ response was, “Those who are well have no need of a physician....I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Meals weren’t the only place where Jesus called sinners to repentance, but they were one place!
While doesn’t record an actual meal, it begins by saying that “tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to him.” This apparently included eating with Him, for the Pharisees complained, “This man received sinners and eats with them.” This led to Jesus telling the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son - all lessons about saving the lost. Why was Jesus mingling with and eating with sinners? To save them! We should not shun the people of the world. Yes, we must be careful that we do not let the world influence us, but if we never spend time with the people of the world, how can we influence them and share the gospel with them? Now, if we spend great amounts of time with worldly people but no time sharing the gospel, then we are likely being influenced by them instead of the other way around. Let us avoid both extremes - that of mingling with the world solely for pleasure and that of avoiding the world altogether. Let us be like Jesus and willingly and purposefully spend time with people so that we might influence them and bring them to Christ.
Provides one final scene. Again, the meal itself is not prominent, but implied. While passing through Jericho, a tax-collector named Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. When Jesus passed by, He told Zacchaeus to come down because He was going to stay at his house. Staying at the man’s house would of course imply eating with him also. Again, the Pharisees grumbled, but Zacchaeus made his desire to repent clear. Jesus then said, “Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Why did Jesus spend time eating with sinners? Because He was seeking them to save them! Saving sinners is not a passive activity. It’s not enough to sit back and hope sinful people come to us looking for answers. Jesus was busy seeking sinners in order to save them, and we should be too. Again, there may be many ways of doing that, but one method Jesus used was the most basic of all: simply sharing time and a meal together.

The Christian and the Dinner Table

Food and meals have played an important role throughout the story of the Bible. But what does this mean for us? How can we use this? Before we close, I simply want to cover a few ways in which we can be more intentional in our meals and how we use them.

Family Meals

As we’ve already said, the need for food is one of our most basic needs as humans. We all must eat. Thankfully, eating can also be an enjoyable thing. Why not use this need that every person in our family has as a means of growing closer as a family? Throughout history, family meals have been an important feature of most societies. Many of us likely grew up in a time where dinners were almost always at home around the dinner table, and only rarely were dinners picked up to go, eaten out at a restaurant, or eaten at different times and places by every family member. And yet, this practice has changed in our society. With all of our activities and busy-ness, family meal time has taken a backseat. Some reports indicate that the average American household only eats dinner together once a month. That’s truly tragic. Meals can be a time to relax. They can be a place of comfort and security. The dinner table can be one of the greatest counseling places, one of the greatest support groups, and one of the greatest celebrations.
Families - if we’ve let the practice of regularly eating meals together at home lapse, let’s do everything we can to reclaim that blessed opportunity. If we need to de-clutter, let’s do it. If we need to cut a few things out of the schedule, let’s make it happen. If we need to rearrange some priorities, let’s get busy rearranging. Let’s use the family meals as a time to grow as a family. Let’s use it to get closer. And let’s use it as a time to talk about spiritual things. Let’s think more soberly about our prayers of thanks before meals, and use that time of prayer for something meaningful. Let’s use the time of provision to remember God’s blessing and talk about it with our kids. Let’s use the dinner table as a place where we can ask questions and get answers about the Bible, the Church, right living, and other things.

Church Meals

Church pot-lucks almost seem cliche. But the truth is, there is tremendous value in getting together as a group for shared meals. It’s a way we can serve one another. It’s a way that those who are more well-off can help and serve those who are less-fortunate in the congregation.
We often say but need to emphasize, all are welcome and you don’t have to bring something to a church dinner. If you are well-off enough to put together a dish or even multiple dishes, then thank God you have that opportunity and find joy in providing for others. If you don’t have the means to put together a dish to bring, then attend a church dinner anyways, and don’t be ashamed of your situation! Be thankful you’re part of a family that loves you and cares for you. Thank God you can come and share with other Christians who are simply happy to have you there with them, and are happy to share their provision with you.
As we mentioned earlier, church gatherings of some form seemed common in the early church, and they should be today. But let’s make church lunches and dinners and get-together’s purposeful. Let’s not just use them as a means to gorge ourselves on free food. Let’s use them to grow closer. Let’s work to get together more. If you don’t usually attend church lunches and dinners, why not start? If you do typically attend, think about how you can use that time to grow. Don’t just show up for the food - use the time to talk with others. Fellowship with others. Use the time to get to know those you don’t know well. Use the opportunity to learn how else you can serve and help others. Use the time to have spiritual discussions with others. We as American Christians perhaps have more where-with-all and opportunity to provide common meals with one another than any generation since the beginning of the church - and yet often times we either fail to do so, or else we miss out on the real opportunities that are present when we do.
This isn’t just about getting together to eat more. It’s meant to cause us to think of how we can use a simple idea of joining together in a basic ritual - a meal - to do what Jesus did. To serve and help one another and grow closer with one another.

Private Meals with Christians

In addition to eating common meals together, another thing we can strive to do is simply find more opportunities to get together privately or in small groups over a meal. We don’t always have to have the whole church over for dinner. Sometimes it’s great to just have another Christian over, or another couple or family or families. Not everyone may have the ability to do this, and that’s perfectly OK. But if we do have the ability to open our homes to others, why don’t we? We don’t have to prepare lavish and extravagant feasts. But why not open our homes and dinner tables more often for a simple meal together? There’s something about eating together that breaks down walls and helps us become more comfortable with others. So what greater way than to share a meal together? If nothing else, take another family out to dinner or at least meet with them at a restaurant. If at all possible though, open your home. There’s something more meaningful about being invited into someone’s home. It displays trust and openness that warms the soul to be invited into someone’s home and to be provided a meal.
Again, this isn’t just about eating. It’s about building relationships and serving one-another. Use meals to get to know others better. Use meals to draw closer to others. Use meals as a catalyst for Bible discussions and Bible studies.
If you have the ability, and we should all be very honest with ourselves about whether we do or not, I would like to encourage you to try and open your home at least once a month to another Christian person or family. Will that take time, and money, and sacrifice? Yes it will. But isn’t that what we’re supposed to do as Christians? To help and serve one another. Find time once a month to invite someone over, provide them a meal, and get to know them better.
We saw in that the first Christians broke bread from house to house - they got together over something as simple as meals. And they grew daily. Let’s spend more time together. There’s many ways we can do that, but one of the simplest ways is by simply sharing time around the dinner table together.

Meals with Non-Christians

Lastly, I want to challenge us to think about using meals as a method of reaching those who are not in the church. Jesus didn’t just eat with the disciples - He ate with tax-collectors and sinners. And why did He do that? To seek and to save the lost. Sharing the gospel isn’t always easy. One of the reasons it can be so hard is we’re often in situations where real, meaningful discussion is nearly impossible. But a meal is a time when we can slow down and really have good conversations. It’s a perfect time to listen to people. As we’ve seen, it’s a perfect time to share with others and serve them. And because it’s so simple yet so important, a meal is something can break down walls and barriers like nothing else. Many of those tax-collectors and harlots and sinners would probably never have come to hear Jesus at the Temple or a synagogue - but they were willing to have a meal with Him, and it changed their lives forever.
I’m not simply suggesting we trick people into listening to a Bible study by offering them food. I’m suggesting we get better at building relationships with people by opening ourselves and even our homes in a simple yet profound way - by sharing our dinner table with them. Is there a family at your work or school who you know is struggling? Invite them over for a meal. Someone you know who’s lonely? Show them some companionship and hospitality. Someone who’s an outcast for whatever reason but you have a connection with? Have a meal together. Use the time to listen to them. As you listen to them and their needs, find ways to serve and help them. As you build that trust and relationship, share the gospel with them. Bring up spiritual matters and ask spiritual questions. That’s a daunting task, but isn’t it what we’re supposed to do? Dinners aren’t a silver-bullet to evangelism, but perhaps it’s a way we can help and serve others and find more ways to have meaningful conversations that lead to sharing the gospel.
To that end, I’d like to suggest one more goal: in addition to inviting one church member or family over every month, try to invite one non-member over every month also. Invite a family member, a friend, a classmate, or a coworker over for an enjoyable evening and a meal. Show that hospitality and kindness, and see what happens. Maybe you’ll find more opportunities to serve them. Maybe you’ll have opportunities to invite them to church or share the gospel in some way. Why not try the method Jesus used? Why not try to use the simple yet intimate setting of a shared meal to reach the lost?


Food is a daily part of our lives. Every one of us has to eat to survive. For most of us, in our abundance eating isn’t a matter of survival, and perhaps in our excess we’ve lost appreciation for the wonderful blessing a meal really is. Meals have been important throughout history and throughout the Bible. So important that God has used meals to teach important lessons, incorporated meals into our very worship practices, and promised visions of provision and sustenance at the eternal table of the Christ. Sharing meals is so powerful it was a common practice of Jesus to share the gospel while sharing meals. How are we using the blessing of a meal? What could we do better to use our meals in service to God and to one another?
If you’re not a Christian, won’t you accept the Lord’s invitation to dine at His table? Food is life, and Jesus says “I am the bread of life.” Won’t you accept the bread and the water that is Jesus which leads to eternal life? If you desire such a feast, then believe in Jesus. Repent of your sins, confess His name, and be baptized for the remission of your sins. If you do this, you’ll be washed clean by the blood of Christ, added to the Lord’s church, and you’ll be on your way to the Lord’s eternal banquet. The Bride and the Spirit say come and take the water of life. If you’re subject to that invitation, won’t you accept it today?
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