Sunday, July 5, 2009

Eupan meals.

I had the privilege of reading Contagious Holiness, Jesus Meals with Sinners this morning. The text is authored by Craig L. Blomberg in the series published by InterVarsity Press entitled New Studies in Biblical Theology. The book probes and in-depth discussion of what it means to understand meals and fellowship in the old testament and new testament. The book takes into consideration the Greco-Roman context for when the text of the Bible came together, and more importantly, how Jesus was himself a participant in the culture of the Greco-Roman society, though Jesus himself was clearly Jewish alongside many of those who followed him.

It is not the intention of this simple blog entry to parse out all of the various dynamics that Blomberg achieves in his full text, but instead I want to pick up on a simple aspect of Jesus as table fellowship.

In my immediate situation, as part of my professional work, I have been participating in a seminar dealing with issues of genocide in the modern world. Various topics and discussions have included issues of genocide taking place in the early portions of the 20th century, through and including discussions of what has happened more recently in Rwanda, Serbia, and Darfur. While not attempting to simplify a variety of social, personal, political, religious and other dynamics that take place in the context of these events of genocide; it does seem to be characteristic that in order for a person to have the will and motivation to murder an "other" - there must be some characteristic forms of "distancing onsel from the other." That is, a person is able to murder an "other" because there is something "bad" or "troubling" or "wrong" or "inappropriate" about the other - even the fact that the "other" causes the murderer to envy them. If it is the case that murder and genocide have some origin in viewing others as "outsiders" or seeing them as "despised" or "despicable" or "vermin" or whatever the case may be, perhaps a simple but appropriate point of reconciliation between opposing groups would be having such parties sit down to meals together.

Christian people have often failed to be willing to sit down to a table fellowship with "others." It is true that in the long history of Christianity, Christian purposes toward "others" has often functioned with a narrow purpose towards the evangelization of the "other." On page 129, Blomberg writes:

There were always kingdom purposes involved in Jesus' presence at banquets and other special meals. Yet it remains striking how willing he was to socialize, even in the intimacy of table fellowship, with anyone and everyone for the sake of accomplishing his mission.

On page 163, Blomberg quotes C. T. McMahan:

Of all the means by which Jesus could have chosen to be remembered, he chose to be remembered by a meal. What he considered memorable and a characteristic of his ministry was his table-fellowship. The meal, one of humankind's most basic and common practices, was transformed by Jesus into an occasion of divine encounter area. It was in the sharing of food and drink that he invited his companions to share in the grace of God. The quintessence of Jesus' redemptive mission was revealed in his eating with sinners, repentance and unrepentant alike.

On page 170, Blomberg quotes J. M. Joncas:

Jesus' promiscuous table-fellowship should commit us to a world where all human beings, regardless of race, gender, economic status, class, sexual orientation, or religious police have access to the goods of the earth bestowed on us by our Creator God. There is no avoiding the economic and political implications of genuine table-fellowship.

I don't know about you, but I really enjoy a good meal. I am privileged to have many opportunities to sit down to enjoyable meals with family and friends on frequent occasions. Additionally, I am privileged to have opportunity to enjoy good meals with people who, given certain aspects of social-economic status are very "other" than I. I eat routinely with persons at our local church, through a compassionate ministry associated with our building, OKC Compassion. I sit down with the homeless poor who are "red and yellow, black and white" - "all God's Children of the world." And when I sit with them, I hope to extend "good" to them. I hope to demonstrate kindness to them. And I do so, even when at times, I have had to "break up a fight" or be "cussed out" by someone who was in some state of rage.

What does this have to do with genocide in the modern world?

Well, perhaps the seed of animosity - the kernel of hate that blossoms into hatred, rivalry, murder and genocide *could* be "fertilized" differently such that hatred blossoms into love or animosity grows into generosity. And, perhaps it would happen - this good could be effected - if *only* we found ways to sit down to meals with "others."

It sounds trivial and mundane. I am sure. It sounds impossible and "small." No doubt.

Yet. One man came proclaiming Good News for All (!) - some 2000 years ago - and his proclamation *does* continue to effect good in places across the globe. Perhaps we ought to go back to the simplicity and purity of his proclamation - effecting the good for the all by committing ourselves to genuine table-fellowship with any and all human persons, were gardeners of race, gender, economic status, class, sexual orientation, or any other variant position that would force exclusion.

Can eupan be made effective at lunch or dinner time? Perhaps. If we act. Perhaps.

I wonder, what would the world look like if Christian purposes toward "others" expanded in purpose so that a "narrow" evangelization of the "other" shifted toward a broader evangelization of "the world" - not by exclusive practices of separation but by inclusive practices of gathering?

~ marty alan michelson, ph.d.

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