Jesus at the Margins: Epic Meals (John Frye)

Jesus at the Margins: Epic Meals

Jesus said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners’.” Jesus is contrasting his kingdom of God method with his cousin’s, John the Baptist’s way. We evangelicals do so wish that Jesus had said, “The Son of Man came expository preaching Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 and correcting the doctrinal errors of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and all the other factions in Israel.” That’s the USAmerican evangelical approach to social change. “Preach the Word!” It really is too bad that our Supreme Example didn’t use the “biblical” method of preaching.

Daily meals became Jesus’ dangerous method. He welcomed marginalized people to eat with him. They gladly did so at the cafe table set in The Kingdom of God. They laughed and swapped stories and had a rousing good time. Jesus’ disciples had numerous side conversations with the cultural-culinary-religious police about “Why does your master welcome and eat with these kind of people?” Talk about meal-time excitement!

Whoever thought that bread could be a weapon for change? Imagine with me. Jesus with squinting eyes stares down an upstart Pharisee and in a Clint Eastwood-like, raspy voice says, “Listen. This here is a Zebulun 6″ diameter loaf of fresh-baked, crusted-topped, four grain but mostly wheat bread. I don’t know how many bites are left. Are you feeling lucky, Punkisee?”

Whoever thought an ordinary table of people could be the place where heaven and earth meet? Whoever thought that eating together with the most unsavory of friends would challenge and reshape a nation’s vision of holiness? I marvel at the Jesus Way: creating a national storm with bread, fish and wine, not with swords, F-16’s and bunker-busters.

“As oft’ as you quote this verse and preach this Bible text and argue vehemently for the substitutionary penal atonement view and hold to a skewed Reformed view of justification by faith alone, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Isn’t that what Paul wrote? How does that verse go again? We have changed from the Jesus Way.

People at the margins might not be able to follow our fine, finessed, exegetically precise, “inner logic” trails to getting right with God, but they sure do know how to eat. And they did and will eat with Jesus when he invites them. It was the spiffy, spotless, religious know-it-alls who were “too good” to mix with the dusty riff-raff. “Why do you eat food with unclean hands? Why do you eat food with homosexuals, terrorists, racy women and social rejects? God just would not eat with people like that.” Yet, Jesus of Nazareth, gritty as he was, was and is and will forever be God-in-human-form.

Here’s the clincher. Some of you will have to bite your tongue. There’s no record that they had “to repent” before they came to eat at Jesus’ table. The fact that they came–tax-collectors, prostitutes, lame, blind, diseased–and ate and enjoyed Jesus’ welcome was repentance enough. I didn’t say that they didn’t ever change. I said there’s no evidence that they had to change before they came to the table. There’s a word that is really loved and lived by those at the margins. It’s the word grace. Grace. Embracing Grace.

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  • It is for this reason that I believe in an “open communion” at church…that I believe gatherings of believers should have a space open for those who don’t “fit in”. Thank you for this… loving this more and more by the moment.

  • Julie Frye

    John Frye here. Early in church history the Lord’s Table was pulled out of the hands of the people and put in the hands of clergy. The Table’s robust missional impact mutated into a rite to pronounced “who’s in” and “who’s out.” A tragic move that the church is still trying to recover from.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Thank you Scot. You remind me of “Take This Bread.

    Susan Miles book is the autobiography of a left-leaning Lesbian journalist taking the bread and wine in a San Francisco church and feeling the presence of Jesus on the spot. She went on to start food pantrys throughout the San Francisco and Oakland areas where she made sure that the people who came for bread became the people who ran the programs. Her book “Take This Bread,” and the follow up, “Jesus Freak” tell the story of her life and how it did change, and all of the broken people she touched along the way.

    These are stories I love to read — those of how people, broken or apparently healthy worked out their lives after “conversion.” In Lauren Winner’s “Girl Meets God,” her “badge of authenticity” for me was her continued sexual activity and gradual realization through her spiritual director that it was not “right.”


  • Julie Walsh

    I like how Jesus even invited himself over! Hey Zaccheus–me and my friends are going to come over and have our party at your house!

  • Jean

    Amen. And, great post, as usual. John, you’re one of a few who marry great pastoral writing, solid theology and a healthy dose of the prophetic word. You’re a real blessing. Thank you!

  • josenmiami

    awesome post! I could not agree more. Thank you!