Monday, December 29, 2014

Luke & Jesus' Kingdom Banquets (part 1)

The Gospel of Luke, while it does many things in relation to Jesus ministry, provides believers with a firmly rooted understanding of the significance of meals, not only within the communities, but also within Jesus’ ministry.  Because of what they demonstrate, and because of what they allow to be demonstrated, Jesus consistently seizes upon these occasions to teach and to make points about the nature of the kingdom of heaven.  These meals also become the source of ongoing controversies concerning Jesus. 

Engaging with Luke, one finds a perfect example of that in the seventh chapter, as Jesus is following up on inquiries made of Him by disciples of John the Baptist, and speaking about him to the assembled crowds, doing so in the context of the kingdom of His God (Luke 7:28).  At the close of this dissertation about John, Jesus references the controversial nature of His meal practice (and even that of John in a roundabout way), by saying “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at Him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (7:33-34)  One cannot take lightly the importance that Jesus and the Gospel authors attribute to meals.  A hermeneutic must be allowed to be fundamentally influenced by this meal dynamic.

Both Luke and Matthew have Jesus closing out His discourse on John the Baptist by adding, “But wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (7:35).  Though there is an implied break in the narrative following these words from Jesus, with the words of the thirty-sixth verse of Luke seeming to present a new situation, it is noteworthy that Luke immediately moves to inform the reader that “one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him” (7:36a).  With this, the author appears to be communicating the importance of meals, as even though there is a break in the action, so to speak, the theological narrative continues, with Jesus being moved directly from His statement about wisdom and her children (which follows a statement about eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners), to the acceptance of an invitation to dine at the house of a Pharisee. 

If an observer maintains a mental framework that does not have Jesus or Luke diverging from speaking from a context of meals and their importance, then it is quite possible to hear Jesus speaking in that context when He says that “wisdom is vindicated by her children.”  This, then, is not a disconnected aphorism recorded by Luke and randomly placed within the text, but rather, a transition that maintains the meal-related motif.  Of course, this cannot be asserted without addressing the fact that Matthew places Jesus’ speech about John within a different sequence of events, and does not move from the wisdom and children statement to Jesus’ meal in the house of the Pharisee. 

Without attempting to rectify or harmonize the chronological conflicts, the difference can be explained by noting Luke’s greater emphasis on Jesus’ meals.  Though Matthew certainly holds Jesus’ participation at various meals in high regard, rightly signifying their importance for understanding Jesus and their significance for the communication of His mission, it is Luke that has Jesus spending more time at meals, while also sharing some of His most impactful parables (the parable of the prodigal chief among these as one of Jesus’ most important, elaborate, and impactful parables) while at a banqueting table. 

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