The Jesus Creed 4 – The Jesus Creed as a Table

Posted: August 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The ones for this chapter are: Matthew 11:16-19; Mark 2:14-17; Luke 19:1-10.

Tables create societies.

That’s the provocative sentence which opens this chapter. Reflect on the statement. Read the gospel readings. (Those are three of my long-time favorites, but we don’t seem to talk about them very often.) Consider sociological contexts. Consider your own experience. Scot McKnight continues with an amusing example, but we should have little problem coming up with many of our own. There is something about the way we gather together in so many ways to eat and drink. Something light … and something darker.

Tables can create societies; they can also divide societies.

There is something intimate about sharing a table. We may have masked some of that in our American culture (though it’s not hard to see glimpses if you look), but other cultures still clearly expose that reality in their approach to the question of who could eat at the table and how the meal is conducted.

Jesus used his table to create an inclusive society. And it was a society his contemparies understood as dangerous. In his culture, table customs were often used to measure Torah commitment. And they denounced Jesus. ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard.’ The accusation is more than it first appears. It is a precise quotation of an ancient Israelite law book … and it is pinned to Jesus’ lapel because of his table customs.

Tables don’t become walls strictly through meanness or evil intent (though the laws/customs of segregation certainly contained both). The Pharisees cared so much about those with whom they ate, making their table into a very high wall indeed, because “they were zealous in their commitment to how they thought the Torah should be applied.” It was a wall between the observant and the non-observant, sometimes even the accidentally non-observant. They would often refuse to eat or drink with anyone but other Pharisees.

But for Jesus the table was to be a place of fellowship and inclusion and acceptance… Jesus’ attitude gave him a bad name. For his custom of including all at the table, Jesus was called a ‘glutton and drunkard.’ This expression points to a legal charge against Jesus. The accusers of Jesus use the specific language from a passage regulating how parents are to make legal charges against a rebellious son. Parents are to take the son to the elders and say, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then they are to stone the rebellious son to death in order to purge evil from the community. Yikes!

Yikes, indeed! Of course, I was already familiar with the law in question. It’s in that largish category of Old Testament things I don’t understand and have difficulty reconciling, but mostly don’t much worry about. I do know it’s abused still today as an excuse to cast kids out (perhaps not actually stoning them, but not dissimilar in some ways). But that does provide a certain gravitas to the charge, one that is otherwise completely lacking in our cultural context. It’s only as I have been increasingly able to better understand the table in Jewish society (and lots of sources have helped me in that regard), that I’ve been able to understand the depth and intensity of these exchanges. And reflections on this law help me better understand the father in the prodigal son. Given the treatment of sons like the prodigal, it’s likely the father’s urgent concern for his son and need to reach him before anyone else in the community that has him racing down the road to him in a manner most unbefitting his station. As a prodigal of sorts I’m grateful that was the Father’s reaction to me. As a father myself, that’s the response I deeply understand. It matters little what my children do. I would never be able to stone them.

We can now put together our first few chapters. Jesus teaches that the center of life before God is the Jesus Creed. When the Jesus Creed turns into prayer, it becomes the Lord’s Prayer; when it becomes a story, it becomes the Parable of the Prodigal Son. And when it becomes a society, it becomes the table of welcome around Jesus.

Hmmm. If that’s the measure of the society created around Jesus, how well do our churches hold up. Sometimes pretty good, but much of the time? I think less so.

The observant person’s table story: You can eat with me if you are clean. If you are unclean, take a bath and come back tomorrow evening. Jesus’ table story: clean or unclean, you can eat with me, and I will make you clean. Instead of his table requiring purity, his table creates purity. Jesus chooses the table to be a place of grace. When the table becomes a place of grace, it begins to act. What does it do? It heals, it envisions, and it hopes.

At his table, or by bringing them to his table, Jesus heals those who are spiritually or socially sick. He restores people to society. The table also envisions. “Jesus table fellowship actually creates a new vision of what Israel means and is to become. … ‘Israel’ now refers to those who love God by following Jesus. ‘Israel’ describes those who are spiritually attached to Jesus.” At the demonstrable, physical level, what our churches saying?

And finally, McKnight explores how the table hopes or anticipates the Age to Come. “sharing table with Jesus is a foretaste of the Kingdom of God for each of us.”


2 Comments on “The Jesus Creed 4 – The Jesus Creed as a Table”

  1. 1 Anne said at 8:28 pm on August 16th, 2010:

    I’ve seriously got to read that book. I love it when someone shows me something that I’ve seen a hundred times but never really seen before. That series of table events — where the Pharisees chase people away who haven’t washed, and how Jesus kneels down and washes … wow. It’s right there. God is good.

  2. 2 Scott said at 5:43 am on August 18th, 2010:

    Truly, he is a good God who loves mankind. I hadn’t quite connected the dots myself until I first read the chapter above.