Discount for Disobeying Jesus

 

The receipt above has been circulating via social media. Mrs. Betty Bowers shared these appropriate thoughts on the subject on Facebook:

A restaurant in North Carolina is now offering discounts to diners flamboyant enough about praying that their waiters notice. In other words, they are being encouraged to tell Jesus to stick a sock in it to save a few. Because He was pretty clear: If you want to pray, do it in private, otherwise you’re just an annoying hypocrite who prays only to be seen praying. (Matthew 6:5-6. You know the type – and so, apparently, did Jesus!) American Christians have always been linguistic gymnasts when it comes to getting around the clear, yet pesky, things Jesus asked (i.e., anything that starts with a “don’t”), so it was only a matter of time before we would expect to be paid to thumb our noses at Him. Because the only thing Americans love more than justifying narcissism is getting paid for it.

 

  • Dan

    I think the question has to be if praying sitting down at a table in a restaurant is different from calling attention to yourself and anoiuncing to the reatuarant that you will be praying before you eat.

    One practice is encouraged and the other is what Jesus was discouraging.

    • Ian

      If your prayer was obvious enough to gain the attention of the wait-staff and instigate a monetary reward, I think we’re pretty firmly in the wrong territory.

      • Dan

        Ian, it really depends. I know a number of times that waitstaff have noticed my family praying and waited to come to our table until we were done. And all we do is the common table prayer, fold our hands and bow our heads. So, it truly depends on the situation.

        • beau_quilter

          Well done. You’ve got the attention of the waiter, now you can get a reward!

          • Dan

            Who prays to get the attention of the waiter? No one, except the atheists to get a reward like the one in the news.

            • beau_quilter

              Apparently, everyone who got a discount at the restaurant got the attention of the waiter.

            • Ian

              It is great to see how cherished religious tradition squirms and tries to find ‘I didn’t mean it like that’ loopholes when it comes up against biblical commands.

              You pray in public with your family because that is more important a tradition, a social glue, a family statement, a ritual. As such I think Jesus is right, you’ve already gained all the credit or reward you’ll ever get in availing yourself of those psychological benefits.

              • Dan

                I like how you are sure that you are right in your interpretation and cannot see how it is likely wrong Ian. Jesus is speaking about those who desire to be seen in public. It is not a prohibition on praying, which Jesus actually promoted.

                You are wrong.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  Where did Jesus promote praying in public?

                  • Dan

                    Well, we know that he did not discourage prayer as is being promoted here.

                    We see Jesus praying often and telling people to indeed pray countless times.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      I think it is telling that you are willing to deliberately distort what others say in order to attempt to justify yourself for deliberately disobeying what Jesus taught. No one here has suggested that Jesus discouraged prayer. Several people here have pointed out that Jesus explicitly taught his disciples to pray privately rather than publicly.

                    • Dan

                      James, is it proper to give thanks for what has been provided?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Yes, of course. And one can do that silently and subtly, if one cares about the explicit teaching of Jesus about public prayer. If one doesn’t care about Jesus’ explicit teaching on this subject, then one is obviously free to do whatever one wishes.

                    • Dan

                      James, by stating that one does not care about the explicit teaching of Jesus about prayer, you are in fact not caring about it. Because it is against those who go out in public and pray obnoxiously, not those who simply pray.

                      So, by promoting this, you are in opposition to the actual teaching.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      You keep saying that, and you are obviously free to do so. But you have not shown it to be the case, nor have you addressed evidence to the contrary.

                      Presumably you do the same to make yourself feel better about not obeying Luke 14:33. But personally, I think it is better to admit that we are not doing what Jesus taught, and to reflect on why, than to invent a context that allows one to pretend that Jesus didn’t mean what he said.

                    • Dan

                      James, what is meant by this according to you:

                      “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray
                      standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by
                      others.”

                      The keys are standing in the synagogues and on the street corners. It is clear that this is not talking about one going into a restaurant and praying.

                      Concerning what is given up for following Christ, what is giving up ones life worth?

                    • dicentra

                      I think they key isn’t the location as much as the intent. I don’t think this was as much an indictment against corner preaching as it is an admonition to look at our reasons for praying. If we’re praying in public *so that we get public attention*, then our reward is public attention. Pray for public attention = get public attention.

                      However, it’s really interesting (to me) that right after this, Christ says, essentially, “do something different”: go into a closet and pray so no one knows. What if Christ is using extremes to illustrate the point and there is a spectrum of hypocrisy and humility? Non-dualistic thinking. There’s not an either/or or black/white on/off switch. So, what if we’re to make sure we’re on the humbler side of the spectrum? Better to go in a closet where no one even knows you’re praying than it is to pray in an attention seeking way in public. If Christ tells me that a hypocrite prays this way but a humble person prays that way, I think He wants me to go inside myself and examine my own motives for prayer and where and how I do it. Then He says it’s better to err on the side of secretiveness, perhaps? So, examine where I am on that. Be willing to look at my motives.

                      If I pray in a restaurant in an obvious enough way that I get the attention of the waitstaff so as to get my 15% discount, and I succeed and get my 15% discount, then (technically) my prayer is answered. Perhaps I thought I was praying for the food, giving thanks for those who made it, giving thanks for my job which allows me to buy it… all good things. But — whoops. I was actually praying for attention and a discount, and I got it. That’s kind of sad, when you think about it, because I think many of us don’t really intend to be hypocritical, but were taught that to pray this way was proper. It’s difficult when that door on our security cracks open. (Benjamin Corey’s recent post on Generational Theology comes to mind.) It means I might have to examine where I am on that and relook at my motives. Seems like a good thing.

                • Ian

                  No you are wrong. – See that’s easy.

                  I may be wrong, certainly. Neither of us has any clue what Jesus may have actually said, before it was remembered, translated into Greek and written down, or whether he said anything of the kind. Much less what he (or whoever else might have come up with the line) may have meant.

                  But it is interesting how these things go: how when folk-religious tradition butts up against biblical exegesis, there is always some special pleading that can be brought to bare. There is no commandment so firmly given in the bible that a well motivated apologist couldn’t special plead their way out of it. Would some of those special pleadings convince the historical figures who wrote or spoke those commands? Perhaps, but we’ll never know.

                  But I’m pretty sure I’m right in that the psychological benefits you get from your restaurant prayers are all the currency they have. And I don’t base that on exegesis. It just so happens that my exegesis matches with common-sense in that case.

                  [Edit: typos]

                  • Dan

                    No, prayer is giving thanks to he who is the provider of all things. So it is not psychological benefits. Rather, it is simply the proper thing to do in return for what has been given.

                    • Ian

                      Exactly the amusing twisting and turning I alluded to before.

                      As per the conversation with James below where you’re desperate to shift the conversation: is this about the definition of prayer, is it okay to say Jesus ‘promoted’ public or group prayer if he didn’t explicitly discourage it (excluding the discouragement in this passage of course, because you have an exegetical escape from that, Jesus clearly didn’t mean this specific type of prayer), to counter with trying to make this general, or about thanksgiving.

                      Honestly, that you can’t see the way you’re thrashing about like a fish on a lure here is rather telling.

                      On the specific last point you made, I suspect you haven’t understood what ‘psychological benefits’ are: your response is strictly a non-sequitir, I never suggested psychological benefits are what prayer ‘is’.

                    • Dan

                      When James admits that he is twisting the actual teaching by saying someone who sits and prays in a restaurant is going against Jesus, I will leave.

                    • Ian

                      Why would you leave? Is this an issue about winning for you now? Making sure you have an intellectual victory that vindicates your actions? Why would you care what James ‘admits’? You seem to have a very odd attitude to what you’re doing. Are you sure you’re not overly concerned about your appearance in this discussion?

                    • Dan

                      It is an issue about truth.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      When you say that the practice of praying in a restaurant is encouraged, what are you referring to? I know it is encouraged by American Christians, but you seem to think that Jesus encouraged it, and so I am wondering where you think he did so.

      • Dan

        What I am sayin is that we are encouraged to pray. We are told in 1 Thess. 5 to pray continually and to give thanks in all circumstances. So I would say it is encouraged by Scripture.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I doubt that you are praying out loud as you walk into the restaurant or as you exit. Your choice to pray out loud only at the start of the meal in a manner that makes a public display, in direct opposition to what Jesus taught, seems hard to justify by appeal to Paul’s letter.

          • Dan

            James, there is a difference from making a public display opposed to a family praying the common table prayer at a reatuarant. That you are failing to understand the difference is troubling.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              I understand the difference, but if one were actually concerned to adhere strictly to what Jesus taught, then one could pray silently, eyes open, in a way that did not clue in anyone in the restaurant. One could pray before entering the restaurant, whether at home or before existing the car. And yet with all these options available, some Christians prefer to willfully justify disobeying a clear teaching of Jesus. That is what you should find troubling.

              • Dan

                One could pray all of those times and it would be appropriate, and even efficacious. However, praying at the table remains the most appropriate for a meal.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  Despite the clear teaching of Jesus. I have no problem with you not following the teaching of Jesus in all things. No one does. But it does seem as though you are trying to pretend that you aren’t doing so.

                  • Dan

                    The clear teaching of Jesus has a context that completely rejects your position here however. Yes, by leaving out the context people can reach your conclusion. But only by completely ignoring the context.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Would you care to elaborate on what you think the context is?

                    • dicentra

                      This is a very interesting discussion! I look forward to further responses.

                    • Dan

                      The context is verse 5. Jesus is speaking about those who pray with the desire to be seen by others. Does a family who is praying at the table praying to get the attention or are they praying to give thanks to God for the food that has been provided?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Prayer in public can lead to hypocrisy, just as hypocrisy can lead to prayer in public. Are you reading the same passage that I am? I see no loophole left for giving thanks for food publicly. I see no statement that, as long as you don’t like getting attention then you can pray anywhere you like. I realize that it can be disconcerting to realize that you are doing something Jesus said not to, but I don’t see how pretending you are being obedient is going to make you less rather than more guilty of that which was the focus of concern in the text.

                      Here is the passage, for your convenience:

                      5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

                    • Dan

                      What do you mean by giving thanks for prayer publicly? When a family prays are they doing so to be heard by others? I know I am not, I am doing so in order to recognize that God is the source of the food I am receiving.

                      Could people have the wrong desires by praying at a table in a restuarant? Absolutely, and by doing so, they would be in violation of what Jesus has commanded. However, many who sit down and pray before a meal are doing so to simply give thanks to God for what has been provided.

  • Sean Garrigan

    Do those words go back to the historical Jesus?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Great question! It seems to me impossible to know. The statement is only found in Matthew, but that in itself is not the only consideration. The preceding saying about almsgiving in secret has a parallel in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 62), for those who consider that relevant. Matthew adds more sayings about hypocrites, but Luke has some too.

      • Sean Garrigan

        It’s certainly the sort of thing one would expect Jesus to say! In any case, if someone told me that I got a discount because I was seen praying over my meal, I’d have to insist that they charge me the full price.

        Only in America! Sad:-(

      • Michael Grondin

        Parallel to Thomas 62? Typo, James?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I looked it up here, and so this was the numbering I used: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas/gospelthomas62.html

          Which numbering system ought I to have used?

          • Michael Grondin

            Okay, I got it. Mt 6.3. Thomas 62.2 doesn’t mention almsgiving, but it has the thingy about “don’t let your left (hand) know what your right is doing.”

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              The phrase about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing is found in both, which either suggests that Thomas knew Matthew, or that both stem from an earlier saying attributed to Jesus.

  • Gary

    Note to waitress: if you didn’t notice my quiet meditation before the meal, your 15% tip will be zero’d out. Either way, I pay the same. However, give me a 15% reduction for quiet meditation, and I more than likely will tip my usual 20%. So your potential loss is 20%, if you judge me to be not so demonstrative of my beliefs.
    Note to waitress: I will only visit your establishment once, if I am forced to zero out your tip. I know what the staff will do to the food, the 2nd time around.
    Note to waitress: give everyone a 15% discount, and you will prosper. Otherwise, you are playing God, judging who is deserving, and who is not.

  • Gary

    Actually, since the Gospel of Thomas was mentioned, I think another Nag Hammadi ought to be considered. “Exegesis of the Soul”, “So we need to pray to the Father and call on him with all our soul, not outwardly with our lips but with the spirit, which is within and has come from the depth…”
    But then again, maybe not. In the same document,
    “The womb of the body is inside the body like the other internal organs, but the womb of the soul is turned to the outside like male sex organs, which are external. When the womb of the soul, by the father’s will, turns to the inside, she is baptized, and at once she is free of the external pollution forced upon her…”
    So….keep it inside!

    • Peter

      If you doit sincerely n Giving thanks to the Lord in public for the flood is not against the teaching of Jesus.
      Paul did it: Acts 27:35
      Totally different If you do it only to be seen…
      If you read the original article you will see that the person did Not know in advance about this policy of the restaurant and the restaurant does NOT advertise this policy.

      • Gary

        Sounds good to me!
        Acts 27:33 And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take some food, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye wait and continue fasting, having taken nothing.
        If I ever go 14 days without eating anything, I’ll be giving thanks too. Might even consider speaking in tongues (or maybe a little delirium).


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