Jesus at the Margins- 3
The Chinese have a proverbial question: Is it edible? The proverb is not about food. It’s about ideas, concepts, principles. If an idea is “edible” that means it is practical; it becomes a working part of life. It is not theory; it is concrete reality here and now. Edible.
Jesus was edible. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood.” He also said, “This is my body given for you.”
Jesus did not change the margins with ideas. He changed the margins with concrete actions. His meal-time practices were “provocative theatre.” You could see the people, smell the food, hear the laughter, even dip bread into the same dish with Jesus. You could actually live in the kingdom of God with Jesus. The kingdom of God was concretely and truly a new world: the last were first, the least the greatest, the powerless infant the proto-type, reigning disciple. You could breathe deeply the grace of God and see shame flee away forever.
Following Jesus was, by his culture’s 2nd Temple Judaism’s standards, an R-rated action movie, not a G-rated, purpose-driven Bible study in someone’s comfy living room. Jesus’ public actions went against the grain of good religion. We do not read about Jesus’ critics saying, “This man welcomes sinners and gives them new ideas.” We read, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Sounds Chinese.
With a thousand times ten thousand “kingdom of God” ideas and concepts permeating the world wide web, the church will not see one person converted. Are the ideas edible? Jesus did things. He broke bread with a violent fanatic and invited him to be a team member (a zealot); he called a tax-collector to be his follower and enjoyed festive meals with that tax-collector and all his traitorous friends. He allowed a known prostitute to touch him at an important and very public social gathering (a meal) in the home of Simon the Pharisee. Jesus touched lepers and dead people. He spit in dust and made mud. He whipped animals out of the Temple. And, he ate lots of meals with marginalized people.
American Christians want an inedible version of the kingdom of God. We want nice ideas to prop up our “Stuff Mart” smothered lifestyle. We desire a nice, sanitized version of the kingdom that won’t get dirt under our fingernails or snot on our clothes or blood on our hands. We would rather “believe” in Jesus than eat and drink him. That “meal” creates in many today, just as it did when Jesus first offered it, a response of “This saying is too hard for us.” Why?
Following Jesus is concrete, not conceptual. Jesus-living is having our culture’s social trash at our Martha Stewart tables. It’s sick people sleeping between our Downy-softened sheets. It’s being in very hot places without air-conditioning. It’s eating with people who don’t know what a fork is or what a Bible is. It is valuing those who are clueless about Jesus and Billy Graham and Mother Teresa. Jesus was edible; much more Chinese than American. What if we behave our way into authentic believing rather than believing our way into new behaving? Someone somewhere wrote, “Even the demons believe and tremble.”