The Politics of the Table

My latest Politics of Scripture post has just been published.

Jesus’ teaching involves, as Hays recognizes, a rehearsal for the manners of the inbreaking kingdom. Rather than currying favor with their rich neighbors and adopting the manners of their regional rulers, the people of God are to cultivate the etiquette of a different kingdom, behaving as prospective members of a different court. Jesus instructs his hearers to act against their apparent social interests, in the sure faith that God’s order will prevail over all others.

The table manners that Jesus called for involve the rejection of the sort of honor culture practiced in many first century Mediterranean societies. Instead of grasping for honor, Jesus’ followers should be characterized by humility and self-effacement. While seating arrangements and dinner invitations were means for social climbers to accrue honor and status in their society, Jesus challenges his disciples to reject the way of honor-seekers and, like their Master, to seek the praise of God over that of man. Abstaining from social jockeying in a society where so much depends upon one’s honor and status is a costly act of faith.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Culture, Ethics, Guest Post, Luke, NT, NT Theology, Sacramental Theology, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Politics of the Table

  1. Alistair says:

    I folllowed the link and read. Useful and immediately applicable. Thanks.

  2. Alastair, thank you for this. I love that you write about passages that are coming up soon in the lectionary. I think I mentioned to you also how I really appreciate when Mere Fidelity does episodes relevant to the Church calendar. In these ways, you let your work be readily available for use in the Church for the Church, and I’m thankful for that. This article will be helpful for me as I prepare my sermon for this Sunday.

    As for the opening stuff about the medieval court, I think I remember Leithart blogging about that same stuff. It made me wonder, then and now, what to make of Dame Julian of Norwich’s claim that Jesus is particularly courteous–i.e., well-mannered in court. Did manners appropriate to the royal court have a different significance when she was writing, or did they already carry those clamoring political overtones?

    To put Jesus’ teaching in practice is very difficult indeed, as you suggest. For example, it’s really hard to follow through on this if you have lots of nice things. First, if you have (and cherish) really nice possessions, it’s hard to love (or even like) poor people to begin with. A lot of times, poor people smell bad. There’s a very real practical tension there. Poor folks often don’t resonate with the elegance of an exquisitely furnished home. Second (and I’ve actually seen this play itself out in the Church), when you have lots of nice things you’ll be wary of inviting poor people to your house because you’re scared they’ll come back and steal from you. They may even hurt you while they steal from you, so your security’s at stake as well. I suppose it’s possible to have nice things yet hold them lightly, but that doesn’t seem probable. It usually takes a lot of hard work to get the money to spend on them. And the reason you’re willing to work so hard to spend your money on them in the first place is because they fit in with an identity that you’re struggling to cobble together. This identity is often enough based in exactly the kind of social esteem that Jesus is trying to undermine, and it also often enough includes a smug disdain (or patronizing sympathy) for those lower down the social ladder that don’t have so many nice things. I think the article’s spot on. The practical implications of Jesus’ teaching are radical and far-reaching. I would maybe only add that these implications are such a challenge not only because of the social cost they require of us, but even the material cost they require if we’re to genuinely follow through on them.

    Great closing remarks on the centrality of the Eucharist. I’m a Eucharist guy, and I’m always looking for opportunities to teach my congregation about the ways the Eucharist molds the way we live. And again, it’s very practical. It touches on questions such as whether or not intinction is desirable or appropriate.

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