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.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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