Ancient Answers


Leave a comment

A wedding banquet Jesus would attend

Here is a marvelous story from today’s news to put a smile on anyone’s face. A Couple Feeds 4,000 Syrian Refugees on their Wedding Day! And I would think that the one who is smiling the most is our Lord Jesus Christ himself. 47957590.cached Jesus often used a wedding feast as an image of God’s kingdom. It seems that in his mind the wedding feast or  large banquet was the best description of our home with God: abundant joy and celebration, and open to all. Matthew 22:1-10 and Luke 14:16-24 are the classic versions of the banquet parable. Note how, in both parables, the invitation is ignored by the elite; this opens the way for the general invitation. In Matthew’s version there is a rather negative epilogue which acts as a counterweight to the openness theme. The punch line of this epilogue – “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14) – has always confused me since the message of the parable is the exact opposite! Did the religious Matthew feel a need to correct the ultra-liberal, and rather unreligious, generosity of the Master? I wouldn’t put it past Matthew. But perhaps there is another way to understand Jesus’ meaning if we just reverse the two halves of that statement: Few indeed are chosen (initially), but then many are called (the open invitation that follows). Perhaps it’s all a matter of how you accent the two statements in this one sentence. Elitism is very common in Christian circles, and certainly the male disciples of Jesus were very obviously afflicted with this tendency. Note John’s desire to stop someone outside their circle (Mark 9:38-41), or the fight between disciples as to who would have the best places in the kingdom (Mark 10:35-37). Jesus was very much aware of this disease of elitism that would afflict all his disciples, throughout the ages. That is why he always went outside the normal boundaries of society and what was ‘acceptable.’ How often did he choose Samaritans as examples of those who please God, rather than his own compatriots who hated the Samaritans (Luke 10:25-37; Luke 17:11-19; John 4:1-42)? And how about his preference for tax collectors and sinners over Pharisees? Or his breaking down of barriers with women and those declared to be ‘unclean’ (Mark 2:15-17Luke 18:9-14; 15:1-2; 8:1-38:43-48; and countless other places in the Gospels)? Jesus often attended banquets and wedding feasts. Perhaps that is why he was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard”! (See Matthew 11:18-19 and elsewhere.) John tells us that the first miraculous ‘sign’ that Jesus performed was at a wedding feast. Note also that he was inspired to tell the parable of the great banquet from watching people at a dinner where he also was invited:

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:7-14)

Then comes this in verse 15: One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” And this leads immediately to the parable of the banquet I referred to above (Luke 14:16-24).

I like to think that among the 4,000 refugees these blessed newlyweds served on their wedding day was Jesus himself! ‘…. for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’ 47958354.cached


1 Comment

The Praxis of Disciples

Today we celebrate a secondary feast of St. Stephen and we read about his martyrdom from the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts… the Acts of the Apostles. Note that it’s called the Book of Acts – not the Book of Truths or the Book of Dogmas. Πράξεις των Ἀποστόλων. The Greek word praxis is the root of our English word “practice” – not practice in the sense of a musician or sports team practicing, but in the sense of a law or medical practice: a professional practice with a mission statement.

The distinction between praxis/practice and theory comes from the philosopher Aristotle and his three-fold classification of disciplines as theoretical, productive or practical, and the telos, or purpose, that each serves. The purpose of a theoretical discipline is the pursuit of truth through contemplation; its telos is the attainment of knowledge for its own sake. The purpose of the productive sciences is to make something; their telos is the production of some artefact. The practical disciplines are those sciences which deal with ethical and political life; their telos is practical wisdom and knowledge. (Source: infed.org)

So praxis in its classical meaning implies informed, committed action on behalf of human well being and the search for truth. It is the action of people who are free, who are able to act for themselves. Therefore, praxis is always risky.

The Martyrdom of Stephen

The Martyrdom of Stephen (click to enlarge)

These thoughts are relevant to the Book of Acts, because Luke, the author of this book, was an educated Greek and was very clearly well versed in rhetoric and classical Greek ideas about knowledge and education. Stephen is the perfect example of informed, committed action and the risk that comes with it. If he were just another talking buffoon like the ones we see on TV talk shows and cable news, no one would have paid much attention to him. But he spoke with knowledge and insight – especially knowledge and understanding of history. He reminded his listeners of their past history and past failures. That was guaranteed to bring a death sentence upon him. Nations and groups of people like glorified, sanitized versions of their history, not the full, often ugly, truths. The Jews of that time were no different than the Greeks or Americans of today. It’s human nature; it’s the law of society. Go against it, and you risk everything. That’s the risk of praxis. That was the risk Stephen took.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

We see another form of praxis at work in our Gospel reading today: The disciples’ boat is tortured, βασανιζόμενον, and Jesus walks on the water to them. They are terrified, εταράχθησαν; they think it’s a ghost! The storm is not only external; it is raging inside them as well. The struggle to be a disciple is part of praxis – the act of following Jesus. But note Jesus’ words: θαρσείτε, εγώ ειμί. Those beautiful words, εγώ ειμί, it is I, I AM. Those same words are spoken to every disciple, every follower of Jesus, in the moment of crisis and doubt.

These words, I AM, accompany the praxis of every disciple. I’m sure Jesus whispered those words to Stephen in that moment of ecstatic vision which also became the moment of his martyrdom. Those words are the key throughout the Bible. They are the words that separate the Bible from philosophy and theoretical knowledge. They are the words of action, praxis. They are the words spoken by God to Moses in Exodus:

“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’… this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

ThIs became the name of God in the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. And they are the words with which Jesus comforted or challenged people around him, as in John 8:58 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” They are also the words inscribed in our ceiling icon!

Icon of Jesus Christ in the ceiling of Holy Trinity Church, Portland ME

Icon of Jesus Christ in the ceiling of Holy Trinity Church, Portland ME, with the words of Revelation 1:8 (click to enlarge)

Buddhists speak of their practice; they don’t speak of Buddhist beliefs, they speak of Buddhist practice. The Book of Acts is not the Book of Beliefs, but the Book of Praxis. In this book we see the practice of discipleship in the early church. And we learn about our Christian practice, our praxis. The praxis of every disciple of Jesus Christ is to follow the one who says I AM.