Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Lord's table (2)

The Gospels record at least two incidents when attempts were made by Jesus' disciples to restrict access to Jesus or to withhold recognition from another "because he was not one of us". In both incidents the disciples are rebuked, and these occasions serve as further examples of our Lord's characteristically open fellowship.
  • In Mark 9:38-40 and Luke 9:49-50 we read about an incident when the disciple John said to Jesus "Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us."
  • In Mark 10:13-14 we read that people were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
This openness was highlighted at the meal table. To eat with another was a mark of acceptance of that person, and to eat regularly with them was to forge a special bond of fellowship. By the same token, to refuse table-fellowship was to deny their acceptability. Table-fellowship therefore functioned as a social boundary, indicating both who was inside the boundary and who was outside.

One story in particular highlights the difference between the Pharisees and Jesus. The Pharisees avoided contact with anyone who would make them ritually impure. They insisted on eating only with people who had 'undefiled hands" (Mark 7:2-4), that is, with people in a state of ritual purity. I noted in an earlier post that holiness for Jesus was was not a negative, excluding force, but a positive, including force. This was demonstrated in the healing of a 'defiled' woman who touched Him. Rather than her defilement extending to Jesus when she touched Him "power went out" of Him and she was healed of her defiling condition. This same point is made in the context of a meal, recorded in Mark 2:17. When the teachers of the law and Pharisees observed that Jesus practiced an open table-fellowship they asked His disciples "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" Jesus replied "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Jesus likened His practice of eating with sinners to a doctor's role in healing the sick. Rather than being 'defiled' by sharing a meal with them, His fellowship with them at the table was a vital part of their 'healing'. Power went out from Him. It is holiness, rather than sin, which is contagious and this principle is fundamental to the inclusiveness which characterised Jesus' ministry of reconciliation.

No comments: