Food and Stigma

Food and Stigma August 30, 2017

photo-1416453072034-c8dbfa2856b5_optJoshua Jipp opens up his first major chapter on salvation by faith and hospitality with these words, words that express insight about high school cafeterias as well as your local church:

Whom you eat with can say a lot about who you are or at least about who you think you are. Think about the meals you’ve shared with another person or group in the past few weeks or so. Who comes to mind? For most of 
us, the companions at our meals will be friends, family, and co-workers — people who are generally already part of our normal societal surroundings. It is unlikely that our table companions will include anyone of a different socio-economic bracket or another religion, someone struggling with a severe addiction, someone chronically homeless, or someone with a physical disability or with a serious mental illness. I am not trying to make you feel guilty. My meals generally also revolve around family, friends, and colleagues or students at my seminary. Handing a homeless person some money for food is much easier and, of course, much less intimate than sharing a meal together. Sharing meals, eating with someone at the same table, and receiving guests into ones home (and entering into others’ homes as a guest) function as opportunities to increase our friendship and intimacy with others (17).

This from his new and excellent book, Salvation by Faith and Hospitality.

It all begins with God, but God acts in an ordinary way at the table with Jesus:

This divine hospitality is often enacted through Jesus’s sharing of meals, meals that are anticipations of the final feast with the Messiah. These meals are marked by joy, generosity, inclusivity, the rejection of status and hierarchy, and most importantly—the experiential and saving presence of the Messiah among his people (18).

Jipp’s point is important: for too many Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners (TFS) is radically secularized into nothing but sitting at table and enjoying one another’s companionship. For Jesus TFS is redemptive, and this changes the entire focus of TFS. Divine hospitality provokes our hospitality, but the kind of redemptive hospitality God offers in Christ becomes the temple for our redemptive hospitality.

In other words, the church is called to participate in Jesus’s hospitality among sinners and outcasts by embracing a stigmatized identity that follows from sharing life together with all of Gods people. The church must recover its role as the context for embodying God s hospitality by considering what it might look like to embrace a stigmatized identity through acts such as visiting and caring for the incarcerated community in North America (18-19).

This kind of divine hospitality, then, must be open to all:

One of the major marks of Jesus s table-practices is his indiscriminate and non-calculating offer of hospitality to all people, and this might easily seem to conflict with Jewish heroes who separated themselves from impure people and their food. Instead, Jesus eats with tax collectors (Luke 5:27-32; 19:1-10; see also 3:10-14; 7:29, 34; 18:9-14), a sinful woman (7:36-50), two women (10:38-42), the poor and ritually unclean (9:11-17), his disciples (22:15-20), and even with the Pharisees (7:39; 11:37-54; 14:1-6). It is no surprise, then, that Israel’s religious leaders are said to have taken offense and complain about the guests to whom Jesus extends hospitality (5:30-32; 15:1-2; 19:6-7). Jesus is tangibly extending God’s friendship to those who, in the eyes of others, are not righteous, have a low status, and are viewed as unworthy of friendship with God (23).

Not just Jesus and Luke; the early church in the Acts of the Apostles too:

Luke’s sequel to his Gospel, the book of Acts, shows how the experiential presence of the risen Lord continues to be found through the breaking of bread, the administration of food, and the imitation of Jesus’s hospitality. The community implements Jesus’s ethics through the non-reciprocal sharing of hospitality and food within a diverse kinship group composed of diverse social classes (rich, poor, and widows), ethnicities (Hellenists and Hebrews), and genders (28).

Joshua Jipp finds three major themes for the church today:

1. The Church’s Identity as Recipients of God’s Hospitality
2. Jesus-Like Meals as Remembrance of Divine and Human Hospitality
3. The Church’s Embrace of Stigma

If the church today imagines itself, as indeed it must, as continuing the same story and the same mission found in Luke-Acts, then many of our churches need to reject their obsession with the so-called normal, with safety and exclusive boundaries that are privileged over the consistent witness that the church is a stigmatized community (40).

But hospitality to one another will require unconditional welcome, mutual solidarity with one another, and a fierce rejection of society’s Standards of worth as a means for structuring our relationships with each other (42).

He concentrates some on the incarcerated:

I do suggest that the structural system dehumanizes those who are already the most vulnerable in our society and brands them with labels and stereotypes from which they can almost never escape. My hope is that my very limited analysis and suggestions will stimulate our imaginations to think about the motivations and possibilities for our churches to extend divine hospitality to the most stigmatized and vulnerable communities in our own contexts (on both structural and individual levels) (43).

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