Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Problems For James (part 1)

My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. – James 2:1  (NET)

Social stratification and the recognition of distinctions (delineation) was so incredibly ingrained within the culture, be it Jewish or Greco-Roman culture (with concerns about dining with only people of the covenant or with maintaining proper social boundaries at the table), that it was inevitable that this societal force, if left un-restrained and unchecked, would quickly make its way into the churches, undoing and unmaking what it is that Jesus had exampled, demanded, and defended via His portrayal in the Gospels. 

The church, as a community, was marked out as peculiar by its table practices, which can be seen in the fact that many of the charges leveled against it, precipitating much persecution, had to do with accusations of cannibalism.  Such accusations, naturally, represented a lack of understanding about the celebration of the eucharist/Lord’s Supper/communion.  Regardless, it demonstrates that there was something distinctive about Christian meal practice that drew attention.  This, of course, was an excellent follow-on to Jesus’ meal practice, as it most certainly attracted all kinds of attention. 

Any type of activity within the church of Jesus that drew distinctions between one person and another, or which treated one person or type of person as a more worthy or exalted or honored member of the kingdom, when viewed through the lens of the Jesus tradition, would be problematic.  Distinctions and associated divisions could multiply quickly and become entrenched, and this would always be a risk for the church, both then and now. 

Social forces are notoriously difficult to combat, but since Jesus went to a cross and urged His disciples to take up a cross as well (and those words are to be heard within the context of the shame and horror that the cross represented), it can be reasoned that difficulties in the combat of the forces in operation within this world are not to be looked upon as a deterrent for those that confess Jesus as Lord.  Difficulties are to be expected and encountered with love and compassion, and a willingness to suffer the greatest of indignities, if need be, in the encounter. 

Though it does not initially appear to be specifically related to a meal, one must keep in mind the importance of Christian meal practice and its prominent place in the church that was seeking to embody the kingdom ethics and principles put into operation by Jesus (which were so readily seen at His table(s) that were given context by the idea of the messianic banquet that would serve to identify the Creator God’s redeeming activity on behalf of His people), while also remembering the prevailing forces of societal stratification and division, as this problem of the drawing of distinctions is encountered within the church community that is being addressed in the book of James. 

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