Friday, August 22, 2014

Good Conduct, Good Deeds, Good Works (part 13)

Christians, as would be expected, were to be different.  Their table was to represent far more.  Their table represented their Lord and their God and His rule, so it had to be different and it had to look different.  It had to (and has to) command the attention of the watching world.  Peter writes “So they are astonished when you do not rush with them into the same flood of wickedness, and they vilify you” (4:4). 

As has been noted, Christians (noting that this letter is the only New Testament letter to employ the term) were accused of heinous activity in association with their meals (e.g. cannibalism), while also being charged with atheism and with having a destructive effect on the social cohesion of their communities and of the empire itself.  Indeed, vilification took place and it did so in conjunction with the derisive name of “Christian” (kristianos as opposed to kaisarianos), so it is quite interesting that Peter takes up its usage in the sixteenth verse of this chapter, mentioning suffering “as a Christian,” as well as in the third verse, using it negatively with the term “non-Christians.” 

Based on what comes in between the use of non-Christian and Christian, it becomes strikingly clear that Christians were to be primarily identified by their meal practice.  The socially defining meal table would be the place that their sensibilities would develop, and be the place from which would stream their good works for the benefit of their communities and ultimately the world.  This would, of course, be in keeping with the fact that those with whom the Creator God has entered into covenant, have largely been identified by meal practice of some form. 

This is patently obvious when it comes to the Jews, as the major provisions of their God’s covenant with them involved keeping His Sabbaths, which were the feasts ordained in the Mosaic law.  This also included dietary laws that would come to be used as a means to readily identify an individual as being in good covenant standing and able to participate in the rule of the covenant God.  This notion, however, stretches back to the very first covenant of Scripture. 

Genesis records that “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it.  Then the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.’” (2:15-17)  There, the bearer of the divine covenant, who was charged to represent the Creator God in and for the whole of the creation, has his covenant marked out by what could be easily termed as meal practice. 

Maintaining that position in Genesis, the next covenant, which the Creator God made with Noah when He “blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (9:1), was codified with “You may eat any moving thing that lives.  As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.  But you must not eat meat with its life (that is, its blood) in it” (9:3-4). 

Moving on to Abraham, and though one does not see any type of meal associated with the initial report of the Creator God’s covenant with him that occurs in chapter twelve of Genesis, one does find such a thing just two chapters later.  After Abraham defeats the kings that had captured his nephew, the author reports that “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine” (14:18a), learning that “he was the priest of the Most High God” (14:18b).  

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