I heard recently that the ‘magic’ of Jesus was ‘meals and miracles’. And yesterday I gave a cursory glance at the 72 being sent out – meals and miracles were to go hand in hand. Today this text:
For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here in a good place, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor person. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into the courts? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
What comes to mind? If you are like me then for many years I kinda imagined a ‘church’ setting with formal or even informal seating but that a notable person comes in and everyone makes sure that they have a decent seat. However… that necessitates a building of some sort and fails to grasp that the context of the meal was huge in the first Century. Huge in both the Graeco-Roman and the Jewish world, and where people were seated at the meals was a big deal, based on a hierarchy. Maybe the nearest we have in our culture is something like a wedding reception – to some extent where people are seated is important. In the culture we are engaging with in the New Testament hierarchy was ever-so-present in these settings. Think about the words of Jesus:
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host, and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Lk. 14:7-11).
The banquet is set out hierarchically – the place of honour. Jesus then follows this on to describe how meals were to operate with his followers:
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Lk. 14:12-14).
In the world of that day the concept was to invite those who were important then give them a place of honour and guess what – they would repay you the honour. The instructions of Jesus over meal invitations was nothing short of a political resistance to the status quo and a turning of the world upside down! The meal table, and for sure Jesus was as much in trouble for his meal table practice as he was for his teaching. The whole aspect played out in the wider non-Jewish world with meals that honoured Caesar and the gods, look after those who carried power and influence and you too could climb the ladder socially and be successful.
This again plays out in the meal that honoured the Lord. I appreciate that there are now traditions such as mass, eucharist, or more lower church terminology such as communion, but the NT setting (‘tradition’ could be a Pauline word for this) was of a meal. It might be termed the agape meal, it was based on the Passover meal, but also sat totally within the wider meal context of that era. At the Lord’s table no place of honour was to be reserved for the rich and famous, everything was equalised. In that setting each person brought what they could for the communal meal and of course the wealthy could bring the wine and finer cuts, the poorer among them (many from the slave class) by contrast could not bring too much. But it was all presented and declared to be the ‘Lord’s table’ then all were invited to eat and drink. In Corinthians this demonstration of equality was not present, so he simply said that ‘when you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper’. The old divisions were maintained, those who had much consumed much while ignoring the others – and surely this must division, this failure to see the wonderful equalisation through the cross, has to be at the heart of ‘whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner’.
What a community Jesus imagined. This is the gift to the world. Meals, or whatever might carry a similar meaning in our setting, being the gift. And miracles – for in the absence of this egalitarian demonstration in Corinth Paul indicated that ‘for this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died’. Sobering words, and the opposite would bring words of hope and healing.
The magic of Jesus – meals and miracles. The lamb with the wolf. The gift to society – a Jesus’ people who do not offer the best seat to the one who is categorised as important; a people who live in a new creation and see no one according to any category, other than the creational / new creational description of ‘image and likeness’. A Jesus people who might not rise to the places of influence, but as our first quoted Scripture above says ‘Is it not the rich who oppress you?’ Not simply the individual rich person, but the system that rewards a pattern of living and that is not the pattern that is to be among us.