October 20, 2020

Why Jesus? (3)

By Chaplain Mike

As we discussed last week, we are in the time following Epiphany. These are days to contemplate the earthly ministry of Jesus.

Jesus said to Thomas and the other disciples (before the Cross): “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) If you want to know what God is like, Jesus said, look at me. And we are to look not only at his “finished work” (death, resurrection, ascension, outpouring of the Spirit), but also at the words and works from the days of his earthly ministry. He came to reveal God to us (John 1:18), and during Epiphany, we focus on the vision of God’s glory that emanates from the days when Jesus walked in Galilee and Judea, preaching the Kingdom of heaven, reaching out with compassion and healing power to bring wholeness to people’s lives, and teaching and training his disciples.

Our guide this week has been William H. Willimon. His recent book, Why Jesus?, paints vivid word-pictures to help us appreciate how attractive yet disturbing and perplexing Jesus is. Last time, we discussed Jesus as Vagabond—a man constantly on the move; as Peacemaker—who provokes conflict, bears the brunt of suffering and thereby provides reconciliation; and as Storyteller—who weaves unforgettable yet cryptic tales that get under our skin and challenge our perceptions of God, life and what it’s all about.

Today, he points us to Jesus the Party Person, and Jesus the Preacher.

Feast in the House of Levi, Veronese

Jesus the Party Person
One of the most common portrayals of Jesus in the Gospels, and perhaps one of the more under-appreciated, is that of him enjoying dinner and having fellowship at the table with people in their homes.

Nowhere in Jesus’ human nearness (and, in a curious way, his divine distance) more apparent than in the portrayal of Jesus as moving from one dinner party to the next. He was no ragged renunciator of this world. He was a party person. He was never a priest bathed in incense up at the temple; he was a wandering rabbi who did some of his best teaching amid the festivity of the dinner table. Jesus was accused more than once of showing the unseemly behavior of “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (WJ, 39)

Did Jesus ever turn down a dinner invitation? It doesn’t seem like it! He visited all kinds of homes and shared meals with all kinds of people. Whether it was a Pharisee or tax collector, a friend or a religious opponent trying to catch him in a trap, a small gathering of the spiritual elite or a large, rambunctious party full of “sinners,” Jesus would sit at table with them, enter into conversations, tell stories, laugh, enjoy their fellowship, discuss important issues, and challenge accepted notions.

Jesus’ habit of relating to people at the table reminds us that God is personal and social, and intensely interested in personal fellowship with his people. It also challenges those who minister in Jesus’ name to remember that the only effective way to touch people with the Gospel is through face to face personal human contact—being present, listening, speaking, creating connections, calling people by name, visiting at home or work or over coffee. The big event, program approach misses the point entirely. Sure, Jesus spoke to crowds too, but there is no indication in the NT that this was the most fruitful aspect of what he did. And many times it only seemed to provide an opportunity for the real work of the ministry, which was with some individual or small group in private.

The most controversial part of Jesus’ habit of partying with people was his choice of parties. It seems he frequented places the pious folks avoided religiously. He consorted with characters whose reputation was renowned, and not in a good way. He touched people and let people touch him when it was sure to cause scandal. He welcomed the presence of spiritual losers and delighted in the company of common folks with little social clout. When he did get a chance to practice his etiquette with the glitterati, he wasn’t always appropriately deferential, challenging spiritual snobbery and questioning hidden idolatries.

There is nothing like a feast. We celebrate all our holidays and special days by eating together, with special, sumptuous foods, delightful traditions, wine and champagne, rich desserts, and with preparations and presentations that we reserve for just these occasions. Families enjoy more frequent lesser feasts like Sunday dinners. We look forward to warm weather holidays when we invite people over or gather at the park for cookouts. Friends convene at tailgate locations, or local pubs and sports bars to watch games and cheer on their teams together at tables piled high with food and drink. Church pitch-ins bring the saints together for potluck and pleasure.

And Jesus commended it all as a foretaste of the age to come, transforming that old saying—”Eat, drink, and be merry . . . for tomorrow we’ll be doing this forever!” Never mind the puritanical party-poopers; when Jesus is present, party’s on. Pull up a chair and grab a plate.

We dress up and engage in revelry because parties offer a respite from the dull, humdrum world where we live Monday through Friday. But in his partying, Jesus rejects a temporary respite from this world; he shows them a glimpse of this world healed, finished, redeemed, and restored to what God originally intended. (WJ, 42f)

Jesus the Preacher
Jesus, this man on a mission, this peacemaking servant, this weaver of enigmatic tales, who delighted in dining at table with people of all kinds, came thundering on the scene after his baptism with a proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

Jesus was a man with a message. He was a herald with a public announcement. Like a town crier, he went about shouting, “Hear ye! Hear ye!” He had breaking news which demanded that the normal program of life be interrupted. This was no test of the emergency broadcast system—this was the real thing. It was D-Day, and God’s invasion of this world had begun. Stop the presses! What Jesus had to say demanded a new headline, a new lead story, front page worthy.

Jesus the Christ is God garrulous, loquacious, and graciously talkative. (WJ, 47)

Will Willimon notes how, in his first recorded sermon (Luke 4), Jesus showed us all what speaking a word from God entails.

  • It means being filled with the Holy Spirit, letting one’s words be directed by his power.
  • It means drawing from Scripture as God’s Word.
  • It means taking that ancient word and drawing out its implications for today, pointing to what God is doing now and what that might mean for you and me.
  • And, it means being ready for all hell to break loose when people’s lives are challenged by the upside-down workings of a God whose ways do not resemble ours.

Jesus found a way of attracting big crowds of people through his preaching. They recognized an authority in him that was unique. They found his words intriguing, thought-provoking, winsome and wise. But Jesus also found ways of offending most of them too. On one occasion, he emptied out a whole auditorium by telling people the strangest thing: they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood if they wanted to have life. What’s that about?

When he asked his closest friends if they wanted to check out too, Peter spoke up, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life.” (John 6:68)

That’s the only reason for listening to Jesus. Not that his sermons give your life meaning, or put a lift in your step, or explicate life’s dilemmas, but rather because the one who is speaking just happens to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world, Lord of life. (WJ, 53)

It may be the rarest of combinations—party-person/preacher. Jesus is both. He brings Good News of a forever feast, and he invites us all to join in.

Comments

  1. The God who celebrates; the God who suffers. Perhaps that’s what makes Jesus so difficult to understand; the God He reveals just doesn’t match the idols we have created.

    • Right you are. The same God who suffers most deeply is also the one who celebrates most freely. This reminds me that the suffering and the celebrating have one thing in common: love. He suffered in order that He could celebrate trinitarian love with us. And Jesus seemingly took delight in even the smallest foretaste of that.

  2. Love the idea of partying not as a break in the grind but as a foretaste of the new heavens and new earth. The world redeemed and made whole: the Kingdom Party….it’s on. As a small group leader for years I’d be put off because my friends would be much more interested in kibbitzing around the snack table and talking , giving short shrift to my cutting edge sermonettes. Now I realize it’s because the good stuff, the Kingdom stuff, was probably happening over one of Nancy’s to-die-for desserts, and who can remember even one of my attempts at C.H. Spurgeon ???

    Nice work, Chap Mike
    GregR

  3. Thank you, Chaplain Mike for this forum where we can discuss, where we can hear the views of others, even those with whom we disagree. I think this helps us see that there is indeed a wide variety of understanding within Christianity, and that our particular take on something is not necessarily the only, or perhaps even the best viewpoint.

    Jesus loves people, so I would expect Him to party with just about everyone. That’s where the people are, including some people who may not hang around for sermons (in the traditional sense of the word). That’s where people are a bit off guard, perhaps a bit more open. Conversations can take place. There is a lot of give and take. This is exactly where I would expect Jesus to be, out among the people, people of all kinds, not just the proper religious folks.

    That is where I find Jesus – among the people – in the streets, in cafes, at parties, in the hospital, in homes and in most of the other places of everyday life. There isn’t space here to tell you about the New Year’s Eve party in our home. Jesus was an invited guest and He was there. There was no Bible study, no prayer, no sermon, no Jesus song, but He was there and most everyone there sensed it. Some even told us so afterward.

    This was a party of mostly neighbors, some of whom follow Jesus and some of whom do not. We’re planning to begin meeting regularly, probably monthly, for food and talk and to see what happens. I expect Jesus to show up, not to preach a monologue, but to love, talk and befriend, especially the lonely and hurting.

    In my opinion, some of Jesus’ best sermons were His recorded interactions with people, such as the story of the woman at the well. That entire story is so radical, so amazing! Some think they must go to a “church” to hear the “Word of God” proclaimed form the pulpit. If Jesus were here, isn’t that where He’d be, and what He’d be doing? A roll of the drums, flashing of the lights, smoke billowing our of the smoke machine, and then “Here’s our special speaker for today, Jesus!!!”, as the lights come up and the crowd roars.

    Jesus is here, walking the streets, at our party, with the homeless guy under the bridge. He is preaching His best sermon. Perhaps He uses us to preach that sermon. Are we available to party with Jesus and His sinner friends, to meet them on their turf and preach a sermon that they will really hear?

  4. I wonder if Jesus danced? Did men at the time of Jesus dance? What would it have been like to be at these gatherings with Jesus? He certainly reproved the Pharisee, Simon, (in Luke 7) who had Jesus over to his place for dinner, but never gave Jeus water to clean up with or gave him a kiss of welcome. I think that guy just wanted to check out who this Jesus was that he was hearing so much about.

  5. As one esteemed professor said to me… “It is hard to be accused of being a drunkard when all you are drinking is grape juice!”

    • Michael Bell…do you think Jesus got a bit “tipsy” when he drank? It seems that he would not get drunk because so many of the scriptures that he knew, read, taught and loved (and also inspired) warned against being drunk. But they never said to not drink alcohol at all.

      • I honestly don’t think Jesus got tipsy. Sure, He drank at parties (and really everywhere- wine was more common than clean water), but I have a hard time believing that Jesus would actually be drunk. Seeing as drunkenness is a sin, and Jesus was sinless… well, you get the point.

        And I gotta agree with you, Mr. Bell- it is indeed hard to be a drunkard while only drinking grape juice. Though I must say if students can fail study hall, then anything just might be possible 😉

      • As another esteemed professor used to say… the text doesn’t say. It is clear he drank wine.

        What is your definition of a ‘bit “tipsy”‘? Impairment starts with one drink. He had that. Pretty sure he didn’t drink and drive though! 😛

        • I would say that “tipsy” is when you really begin to feel the affects of alcohol, but aren’t full-out drunk (if that makes any sense at all).

          • I personally believe Jesus could drink all of us under the table. I mean, He was God!

            You know, He could always convert the wine to water after He drank it. Just think what a great drinking buddy He would be! Ha! The joke on those big tough fishermen who really could out drink any of those tax-collector light weights…

            Jesus knew His limit no matter what it was. He did not do anything to ‘excess’ as we categorize human behaviors. Not a glutton. Not a drunkard. I am sure He was always the designated driver of the ox cart or donkey cart on the way home from the Frisky Lamb bar & grill or whatever hangout they frequented.

            Jesus was never out-of-control in any setting He joined in on. In fact, He commanded every setting He entered into. And not in a way the put the kibosh on enjoyment of food, drink, fellowship, camaraderie…

            He could dine with sinners of every stripe & never be influenced by their lifestyle or tempted by their proclivities. His sensitivity to the human condition allowed Him to move among us as one of us without the weaknesses we are too well familiar with…

            It could be these details of daily life deliberately left out of the gospel stories on purpose. Only because we do abuse the privilege of too much information especially about Jesus. We would then ‘idolize’ His favorite sports team, color, OT book, best MLT (mutton/lettuce/tomato) deli sandwich, cantor, High Priest, Jewish tribe, King, beverage, sandal salesman, etc. As much as we want to humanize Him, the details of His earthly dealings would be a distraction for us, which I believe, is a blessing why they are not recorded for us…

            There is enough of what He said & did do to keep us fascinated without becoming overly bogged down in useless minutiae…

    • His accusers assumed he was a glutton and drunkard, which probably means that this would be a fair description of many of the people who attended some of the parties Jesus attended. I don’t find the text to say that Jesus actually was a glutton and drunkard.

      Jesus was “guilty” of hanging out with the kind of people that good religious folks would shun. I think Jesus still does this, and I think the good religious folks pretty much shun these same people.

      If we look like Jesus and spend lots of time with Him, where will we be? Perhaps in the temple a little, but there’ll be lots of time out there in the streets, in the public place and in homes hanging out with everyone, including those most despised and rejected by society. But we do get to party!

      Wine, grape juice or water? – Just not the point of the story.

      • Wine, grape juice or water? – Just not the point of the story.

        To a certain extent, it does matter. To what extent are we willing to go to hang out with the kind of people that good religious folks would shun. I now a lot of Christians who would never go to a bar because alcohol is served there.

        • I know some people with similar convictions, although this gets real blurry where I live, where alcohol is served in many restaurants. Often the dining areas and bar areas are next to each other, and the waiting area often is pretty much one end of the bar.

          However, for someone who feels this way, there are many, many opportunities to hang out with people outside the four walls of the church that do not involve alcohol.

          As for the “eating and drinking” part, apparently Jesus was attending lots of good church potlucks. I’ve seen tipsy people only at one, but have seen vast quantities of food consumed at every one I’ve attended – Including the one where I was working the food room and saw several people take enough pieces of pie to total two whole pies. Later I heard them bragging to other people about how many pieces of pie they had eaten.

      • But the text does say that he came “eating and drinking”.

        The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

        • I have read that at the Passover meal, each person MUST drink four cups of wine, so at least at Passover Jesus would have had that much wine to drink. I don’t know if their wine had the same percentage of alcohol that wine does today. Probably did. Somebody online pointed out that drinking that much wine could have been one of the reasons that the disciples could not stay awake when Jesus wanted them to after they left the Passover meal. We say Jesus is fully human, fully divine, so his body had to be at least somewhat affected by the wine. Personally, I don’t think Jesus got drunk, but he would take part in eating and drinking what was offered to him and that would include wine. I like that Jesus drank wine and that he ate meat. It gives the “OK” to the rest of us as long as we don’t abuse drink or food. After all, our bodies are temples where God lives.

  6. “And Jesus commended it all as a foretaste of the age to come, transforming that old saying—”Eat, drink, and be merry . . . for tomorrow we’ll be doing this forever!”

    Best line I’ve read in a long time!

  7. David Cornwell says

    “And Jesus commended it all as a foretaste of the age to come, transforming that old saying—”Eat, drink, and be merry . . . for tomorrow we’ll be doing this forever!”

    What a wonderful truth. Think about the hilarious, fun times that we’ve had in life with friends, loved ones, college friends, or whatever. “Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.”

  8. It would be nice to sit and share a glass with some of you folk.

  9. Love the comments but I really love the post itself. Amen!
    Jesus came to us to RELATE. Showing us the Father (with whom Jesus was one) as someone who wants to share our lives with. God wants to eat with us, partying with us.

    Thanks Jesus, I’ll have another glass of chardonnay.