This past week has been a whirlwind.
I arrived in Abilene on Saturday and have spent every day since catching up with my friends and eating. We have done lots of eating and have had two parties this week. Saturday night Annie and I cooked for about fifteen people, and the house was filled with our Jesus community. On Tuesday night, Eric and I cooked for seventeen people or so, and the house was filled once more. The pictures below are from Tuesday night. We ate lots of spaghetti and hung out with each other for a while. Later, after a lot of folks had gone home, a few of us sang for a while and then we took communion together.
Meals matter. It is difficult to hate someone with whom you just shared a meal. The community of the Lord is found primarily around the table. In the Gospels Jesus and his followers are always eating meals with each other. In fact, those parties must have been something else, because the wine flowed freely and Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. In point of fact, he was neither, but he did know how to party and he very clearly would rather be mistaken as a sinner or someone who condones sin than as a self-righteous hypocritical pharisee.
Meals matter. When you pass the green beans to someone else or pour someone another glass of wine, you affirm her. In our culture, like in Jesus’ culture, who you eat with is indicative of status. You can just hear the preachers of Jesus’ day saying, “Heal them if you must, touch them if you have to, but eat with them? Never. Our table is for the righteous.” Eating with people draws them into a simple family ritual. In sharing a meal, it sitting around a table over spaghetti, you communicate to other people your acceptance of them.
Contrast the usual jubilant celebration at the parties Jesus attended with the following story.
* * *
There is one time that Jesus is invited to a dinner party at the home of a well known pharisee (Luke 14). When he shows up there is a man there whose body is, apparently, swelling abnormally. Jesus asks the pharisee if God would be offended if he worked on the sabbath by healing the man. The pharisee says nothing, so Jesus heals him and sends him away. Then, it is almost as if Jesus started to take a closer look at what kind of party he had accepted an invitation to. He starts to critique the way in which the guests jockey for seats that will get them noticed and increase their reputation.
We don’t get the reaction of the dinner guests to this zinger, but Jesus plows on, which leads me to think they were staring at this man thinking “who the hell does he think he is?” He then turns to his host so as to give instructions about how to throw a party. He says, essentially, “If you are going to throw a party for all your rich country club friends, then your party is lame. You’re only having them over for dinner because they will invite you next week. Instead, how about you invite the people who can’t repay you. Where are the blind, the homeless, the drug addicts? What about the poor, the ugly, and the annoying?” To Jesus, this pharisee and his friends were bastardizing the concept of a meal. A meal equalizes people, it doesn’t create hierarchy. That’s St. Paul’s critique of the Corinthians as well. Their meals bastardized true relationships. By emphasizing a Lord’s Supper in which the hierarchies of the world could still be maintained—by the rich getting what they wanted while the poor couldn’t—the cruciform life was opposed.
One of the guests responded to Jesus by saying that “blessed are those who eat at God’s table” which, according to the culture of the time, is a way of saying “You’re right, our own prophets have told us that the marginalized will share in God’s meal, so the messiah can sort that out when his Kingdom comes on the earth.” This prompts Jesus to tell a parable in which all the rich country club friends are excluded from God’s meal while all the disenfranchised that are detested by the upper-middle class are invited to the meal. And we wonder why they killed him. He not only challenged the political authorities be claiming to be king, nor only the religious authorities by claiming to be God, but also the social authorities by claiming to be messiah. Because, really, that’s the irony here. The messiah is sorting that out now. Jesus, the messiah, was present at that party, and he is present at ours as well.
* * *
Meals matter. My Jesus community shares meals together often. You see, we didn’t set out to throw a party on Tuesday. The four of us currently living at together planned to eat dinner together, and then the women got themselves invited. And then, as Eric and I were shopping for groceries, we thought of other friends who had just gotten into town. We invited them. Then, we ran into several people in the course of the day whom we invited to join us as well. People just showed up because all are welcome. That sort of open-handed life is the one we want to live. The crucible for this will be, of course, when classes and work start up for everyone. Right now it is fairly easy, because of the amount of time we have free, to spend hours together celebrating for no good reason, but we will soon see if that continues in light of work and school.
Meals matter. Communion was, initially, part of the fellowship meal the early church shared every week. Yes, they took some time in the midst of dinner to reflect on the bread and wine, but that reflection was surrounded on either side by the meal and by a celebration. When Rome declared that all feasts held in honor of foreign (non Roman/Greek) gods cease, the Church lifted the bread and the wine out of the context of a meal and continued to celebrate once a week with just bread and wine, since that wasn’t a meal. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do communion except as part of a meal, not at all. To do so would deny the organic way in which the Church’s liturgy and praxis developed, but I am saying that the spirit of the early church should be manifest in our meals. Too many people eat alone or in front of a T.V. or a computer. I want to do better than that with my Jesus community. I want to look across the table at someone and say, all pretensions aside, “You are dearly loved and accepted just as you are; here is a plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine. Welcome home.”
May God make us deliberate in our efforts, successful in our endeavors, and prayerful in our hopes.