Monday, January 16, 2017

The Bridegroom with Them

Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God…  Hebrew 5:1-4B

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to Jesus and objected, "Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  Matthew 2:18-19

In perhaps his only public sharing about his experience of God, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., told a story in his book Stride Toward Freedom, a story which took place in 1956 at his kitchen table and featured prominently a close moment with Christ.  King was in the middle of the Montgomery bus boycott and got a midnight phone call threatening his with death if he did not leave Montgomery in the next few days. He tells this story: 

I was ready to give up.  With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.  In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God.  With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory.  “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right.  But now, I am afraid.  The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too ill falter.  I am at the end of my powers.  I have nothing left.  I have come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before.  It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.”  Almost at once, my fears began to go.  My uncertainty disappeared.  I was ready to face anything.  

Jesus’ most important work happens at the table.

Mark gets to the heart of the conflict between the Old-World Order and the New Jerusalem pretty quickly.  After most of the reading in the last week concentrated on the healing touch of Jesus, we have our third consecutive weekday with Jesus stirring up the Pharisees.

The stories pivoted from healing to conflict when the friends lowered the paralytic man through the roof to be touched by the Lord.  The Pharisees objected to the language Jesus used in forgiving sins. Then, in the Good News for Saturday, we studied the conflict when Jesus sat down to eat with the reformed tax collector Matthew/Levi (and other sinners).  Today, in another dinner scene, the Pharisees inquiring minds want to know why the disciples do not follow the traditional ritual fasting.  At least crazy John in the camel hair coat and his disciples obeyed these rules.

Later in Mark 7, the scribes object to disciples who eat with unclean hands. Then, in chapter 8, Jesus begins the table miracles with the feeding of the four thousand.  Finally, in Chapter 14, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. 

Randall S. Frederick, managing editor and creative director for The Hillhurst Review, wrote for the website Theology & the City, a paper titled “Table Fellowship as Expressed in the Gospel of Mark.”  His theory:

The matter is not one of hygiene, but of social stability. In the minds of this group [of Pharisees], the disciples are enemies of social stability; the disciples threaten the fabric of Jewish nationalism. There is certainly an emphasis on what is “clean” and “unclean,” that is, the dietary codes and laws of the Torah. Indeed, these two words show up no less than thirteen times in the Gospel of Mark and their usage has as much socio-political implication as it does spiritual. [i]

This is about more than just dietary practices, fellowship, and fasting.  As Frederick describes, table theology then focuses on those ways in which Jesus is offering the opportunity for people to unite. Not politically, not in religious belief or practice, but through something as familiar, as simple, and as community-building as a meal. He invites those on the borderlands of his society to come together, to reconcile, and to share a meal together – washed hands or not.

Table fellowship is used to convey Jesus’ idea of the Kingdom of God as a place of community-building instead of a place of division until he celebrates the ultimate sharing meal on his final Passover.

Today, we celebrate the life and actions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., high priest of the civil rights movement.  Dr. King also used the image of table fellowship to find a place of community-building instead of division in his most famous speech.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

As Cursillstas who use table fellowship as a cornerstone of our weekend experience, we would do well to sit down with the “others” in our lives and get to know them, to eat with them, to share stories with them and find common ground. To hear their stories and humanize them over a meal would bring to bear all of the things Jesus does in his ministry, towards reconciling the world.

Yes...Jesus does his most important work at tables. 

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