Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Feasting & Covenant (part 2 of 2)

In keeping with the theme of covenant bearers being identified with the meal table and with meal practice, especially as it relates to the identifying practice of the messianic feast (as highlighted in Luke 13:29 in a well-placed elaboration on the pronouncements of prophets like Isaiah), and in-between the use of “non-Christian” (4:3) and “Christian” (4:16), we are not at all surprised to find Peter instructing this church to “Show hospitality to one another without complaining” (4:9).  This is the language of conduct, deeds, and works.  We cannot escape the implications of the meal table here, as this is a demand to contravene the existing customs of the table and of the social constructs that would be on display. 

This showing of hospitality, without concern for social rank or honor, could be quite difficult to achieve, as the corrupted nature reacts against such notions.  This is where the transformative power of the Gospel is sorely needed, and where it and its Spirit-empowered love is most visible, achieving its greatest impact.  It is as we make such considerations, letting the implications sink deep into our hearts and minds, that we are left with little wonder as to why Jesus spent so much time at banqueting tables.  Clearly, this is something to which the culture, in His time, was attuned.  Accordingly, the impact of the table fellowship that Jesus displayed, as He modeled out the messianic banquet, was significant.  His followers seemed to have understood this well, making it a major focal point of the life lived in accordance with confession of Jesus as Messiah. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we should be able to confess that the impact of table fellowship has not been blunted or muted over the passing years as the sands of culture have shifted and swirled.  In this world we now inhabit, though customs have changed, the table has maintained its importance.  This should be the case if the kingdom of heaven, marked by the messianic feast, was inaugurated at the Resurrection and has been relentlessly advancing since that day.  Unfortunately, it is the church that, in many ways, has failed to maintain its grasp upon the practical significance of the table of fellowship, that has lost the dramatic and world-altering essence and context of the communion table, and has reduced it to an intensely private, personal, spiritual experience which has as its focus the destination of the eternal soul rather than the declaration of the rule of God and the accompanying demand upon those that call Jesus Lord to show forth the cross-shaped love of God to the world. 

When Peter tells this church to “Show hospitality to one another without complaining,” we cannot allow ourselves to imagine that this was limited to “members in good standing.”  Surely, we can imagine that those who had not yet made a confession of Jesus’ Lordship, such as we find in the stories of Jesus Himself, might find themselves at the church’s meal table.  If we limit the call for hospitality only to other Christians, then what do we do with Peter (and Paul’s) insistence that good deeds of public benefaction be performed for the wider community, along with the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). 

What does Peter attach to the table-fellowship-linked “hospitality directive”?  He adds “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God” (4:10).  This sounds suspiciously like Paul’s words directed to the churches at Rome and Corinth, in which he encourages unity across the church, not allowing any stratification or honor-appropriation in accordance with spiritual gifts, but insists that the purpose of any gift is for the strengthening of the community of believers.  Those directives from Paul were provided with the context of the meal table, as the churches sought to model and to live out the messianic banquet.  Paul wrote, and no doubt Peter would agree, that the only legitimate use of spiritual gifts was for the service of others in a self-sacrificial love that did not seek honor or position.  We can surmise that the use of spiritual gifts as a way to accord honor to oneself, or in order to attain to a position of spiritual authority, would be illegitimate and entirely contrary to the spirit of the Gospel that is defined by the cross of Christ. 

While Christ was glorified in His Resurrection, let us never forget that the near-constant rejoinder to any mention of said Resurrection is that “God raised Him.”  Jesus humbled Himself, broke religious and political custom and tradition in His shared breaking of bread, touched the outcasts, taught openly to men, women, and children, washed feet, endured rejection and persecution, and willingly went to the cross in His demonstration of the appearance that would be taken on by the kingdom of God.  Though glory and authority came to Him, it was not sought, and it came to Him after He had gone to the lowest place of cursing and shame.  Truly, He showed hospitality (acted out the messianic banquet) without complaining, and even more truly, served all as a good steward of the grace of God.  Indeed, the very language here employed calls our attention to that which is expected of those that bear the divine covenant.  Peter writes of serving and stewardship.  These terms are only separated from the meal table with great difficulty, while the grace of God, as He calls a people to Himself without regard to race or class, is rightly put on display at the Christian meal table as it celebrates the Lord Jesus.     

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