Meal

Meal

There are few things that I appreciate more in life than enjoying a meal with good friends and family. As an intentional way of sharing our lives with one another, it is unparalleled. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a high pressure situation. In fact it can be quite a casual act (unless you happen to being to a Michelin Starred restaurant!). We invite whom we like and spend the time in whatever way we want to.

This wasn’t the case in 1st Century Palestine during Jesus’ lifetime. In that culture sharing a meal with someone had significance that it is difficult for us to imagine today. It was not a casual act. Rules surrounding meals were deeply embedded in the religious purity system that dominated society at that time.

These rules governed not only what might be eaten and how it was to be prepared, but also with whom one might eat. Refusing to share a meal was a form of social ostracism. Pharisees (and others) would not eat with someone who was seen as religiously impure.

In Matthew chapter 9 we read the story of how Jesus called the disciple of the same name, and then was invited to his house for dinner. Now Matthew, as a tax collector, would have been a social pariah. He worked for the hated Roman occupiers, and he probably ripped off his countrymen in order to line his pockets.

No good Jew would have been seen within a mile of Matthew if they could at all avoid it. They definitely would not have eaten a meal with him. The religious culture of the day would have seen that as a tacit endorsement of the tax collector’s behaviour. It would have made them as ‘impure’ as Matthew by association.

Therefore when Jesus accepts Matthew’s invitation to his house for dinner, he was doing something no other Jewish religious teacher of that time would have done.

He was putting relationship ahead of rules. People before dogma. Love over law. He was causing scandal amongst the establishment and destroying any chance of his movement being acceptable to the status quo.

More than that, by choosing to eat with these ‘tax collectors and sinners’ Jesus was enacting a powerful message about the Kingdom of God, and indeed God himself. He was demonstrating God’s unwillingness to exclude anyone who welcomes him into their life, regardless of religious taboos or societal expectations.

He was demonstrating that love trumps law every time.

This really goes to the heart of what Jesus ministry was about. This is the inclusive Kingdom of God he taught about and demonstrated through his actions.

Are there people we as Christians in 21st Century Britain struggle to relate to? Are there social groups that we consciously or sub-consciously exclude from the Kingdom of God? Do we ever put law ahead of love when dealing with others? Are we more worried about our reputation than those in need around us?

The church needs to demonstrate the love of Christ, not the law of the Pharisees. We have the most incredible, life-changing, joyous and liberating message to share- let’s not limit it’s reach!

Correct

Correct

“God said it, and I believe it and that settles it.”

A familiar phrase to some of you I’m sure. My church background is evangelical, therefore a key feature in my faith was believing the ‘correct’ things.

Particular doctrines or ideas were absolute truths, no negotiation.

The inerrancy of the Bible or creationism.

Unshakable.

It almost didn’t matter what archaeologists uncovered or historians discovered, what physics was telling us about the nature of the universe, or biology about humanity and the world around us.

“God said it, and I believe it and that settles it.”

I have learnt there are two big problems with this.

Doctrines I once believed to be integral and immovable are no longer that way in my mind. I have learnt about different traditions and understandings, read the bible through the lens of new life experiences and listened to wise counsel.

It’s ok to change your opinion, even if that means you disagree with those around you. This evolving understanding is an integral part of reading scripture and of faith itself.

Secondly, who decides what is ‘correct’?

If you’re Catholic, the answer is simple. For everyone else: not so much.

The appeal to scripture being ‘God’s word’ that we can just read and be ‘correct’ about doesn’t stack up. The sheer diversity of strongly held opinions within evangelicalism alone undermines that.

Does this mean I consider the bible worthless, or at best ‘life guidance’?

Not at all. I hope it means I take it more seriously.

I try to learn what I can about the society in which it was written, what it might of meant to the readers of the time and what influences and pressures impacted on the thoughts of it’s authors. This in turn helps me apply it to my life today.

Being open-minded towards scripture and its interpretation can be scary.

It is comfortable to be in a place where you agree with everyone and everyone agrees with you.

“God said it, and I believe it and that settles it.”

It can also be a straight-jacket and limit our capacity for growth.

Jesus constantly questioned the understanding of his contemporaries. His most caustic arguments were with the dogmatic Pharisees. He spoke in stories, parables and analogies. He often left his listeners to figure out meaning for themselves.

He rarely gave a straight answer. In fact he was more likely to ask another question.

He always valued love and compassion over ‘being correct’.

“God said it, and I believe it and that settles it?”