Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Whores and Tax Collectors and a Table Open to All: Adam Gopnik on Jesus's Eating with Outcasts

I just finished Adam Gopnik's book The Table Comes First (NY: Vintage Books, 2011), and found this observation in the final pages of the book insightful:

It isn't an accident that Jesus's most original act was at a table, too, which seemed so shocking to a peasant honor society, where values depended on clean and unclean. Jesus would eat with anybody, whores and tax collectors, Gentiles and tribesmen. What did he eat? We can't be sure, but we know he liked wine enough to make a lot. He ate what he liked where he liked with whom he liked, at a table open to all (p. 309).

What Gopnik says here sounds to my ears much like what John Dominic Crossan says (and here) about Jesus's practice of "open commensality." As Crossan notes, embedded in the very center of the historical foundations of the Christian Eucharist or Lord's Supper is Jesus's practice of sitting at table with anyone, and, in particular, with the outcasts of his time and place. Jesus was known as that strange man who eats with despised public sinners (Mark 2), that perplexing man who violated the moral and cultural strictures of his time and place by breaking bread with those who were unclean, taking their uncleanness on himself as he shared bread with the riff-raff. Marcus Borg makes a similar point in his book about the historical Jesus.

We can't celebrate the Eucharist or Lord's Supper effectively--we can't eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of Jesus effectively--if we forget these historical roots of this meal of remembrance. And so one has to wonder what some Christians today think they're about when they would willingly shove fellow Christians from the Lord's table because those fellow Christians rub shoulders with the filthy gays.

How do Archbishop Vigneron and canonist Edward Peters possibly assume they're serving Catholic values when they ask Catholics supporting marriage equality to excommunicate themselves? And when a Catholic high school fires a teacher because she names her longtime partner in her mother's obituary, how does that Catholic high school possibly imagine that it gives witness to what the word "catholic" means in its core meaning--or to the gospel message and the memory of Jesus?

Michael Sean Winters calls Bishop Watterson's decision to fire Carla Hale Jansenistic. I see it as something much more disturbing: I see it as flagrantly anti-Catholic. It violates Catholic values at the most fundamental level possible, and it proclaims a message that is the opposite of the message of the gospels and of Jesus himself.

People have been walking away from the Catholic church in droves of late--young people, in particular--not because they object to Jansenism. They've been walking away because they aren't hearing the gospel message proclaimed in any meaningful or credible way by events like Bishop Watterson's firing of Carla Hale.

The graphic is Louis Kahn's "Les Noces de Cana" (1949).

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