Monday, December 22, 2014

As Christmas Nears: Leonardo Boff on Christmas as Celebration of Inclusive Commensality

I've blogged a number of times here in the past (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here) about how scripture scholars are strongly convinced that the historical Jesus practiced open commensality, and that his practice of inclusive table fellowship with sinners, outcasts, women, those shoved from the table of the righteous, was integral to his proclamation of the coming reign of God. And was part of what got him crucified, since the practice of open table fellowship with . . . everyone . . . was considered a revolutionary attack on the very foundations of the society in which he was engaged in ministry . . . .

Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff applies the theme of inclusive commensality to the Christmas celebration. As he notes in this essay from his blog site translated by Rebel Girl of Iglesia Descalza, 

Christmas is a feast of life, of universal brotherhood, a feast of the family gathered around one table. More than eating, we share each other's lives and the generous fruits of our Mother Earth and the culinary art of human hands.

And so,

For a moment, we forget the daily chores, the burden of laborious existence, the tensions between family and friends and we become brothers and sisters in joyful commensality. Commensality means eating together around the same table (mensa) as used to be done -- all the family gathered together, talked, ate and drank at the table, parents, sons and daughters. 

In Boff's view, commensality is so important to what it means to be human that it's linked to the emergence of human beings as human:

Commensality is so central that it is linked to the very emergence of human beings as human. Seven million years ago, the slow and progressive separation between the great apes and human beings, from a common ancestor, began. What's unique about human beings -- as distinct from animals -- is gathering food, distributing it among all, starting with the youngest and the elderly and then among the rest. 
Commensality assumes cooperation and solidarity toward each other. It is what propitiated the leap from animality to humanity. What was true yesterday remains true today. That's why it grieves us so much to know that millions and millions have nothing to share and are hungry.

And so built into the joyous celebration of Christmas around a table that includes everyone, even family and friends at war with each other, is the recognition of who is not at the table: of the hungry, the neglected, the elderly and cast-off. Built into our commensality is the call to keep expanding our tables until they include everyone

The practice, that is, for which Jesus got himself into a world of trouble . . . . 

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