Interesting, the occasions for which we find reasons to gather. Some grow out of deep, rich convictions and roots . . . others express what we are caught up in at the moment . . . others are tinged with an element of absurdity (as in the famous Tea Party to which Alice found herself invited) . . . and still others have meanings that lie below the surface to be mined, reflected upon, and are probably more transformative than we might otherwise at first suspect.
Last week, many churches celebrated a shared meal, first instituted in its current form on a Thursday evening just before Easter weekend. Motivations were somewhat mixed as the dinner party gathered, but by the end of the evening, the focus had shifted (although not enough for the events of the next 72 hours to be fully grasped, at least right away, but it was a significant start). Some would have found the gathering quite odd and impractical in many ways, others found a richness there that literally changed their lives.
Yesterday, many found reasons to gather in order to re-enact another kind of historical gathering, although some might differ about just how much continuity there was between the two events. Some found the event quite energizing as they gathered in protest, many commenting, curiously, about how much they enjoyed the dynamics of the this kind of expression. (Curious, because some of the same had been somewhat less than warm towards groups who gathered to express themselves in similar ways at other times for other causes).
Gathering and giving voice to the things we care about is a part of our culture and tradition, even if the tendency is to be more appreciative and protective of those sentiments that match ours than those we may disagree with (which is true of most people, whatever side of a particular issue they may find themselves on). Our voices are shaped by what we care about, and what we care about by what we voice. But as in that dinner party that was held nearly 2,000 years ago, to which we still receive invitations on a regular basis, what we bring to the table, and what happens around the table, sometimes catches us by surprise.
Greg Boyd in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How The Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church, makes an interesting observation about one of those times when Jesus responded to a tax question:
Given how politicized his environment was, it is nothing short of amazing how thoroughly Jesus preserved the distinctness of the kingdom he came to bring. . . For example, at several points in his ministry some of Jesus' opponents tried to entrap him in one of the hottest political topics of the day -- the issue of paying taxes . . . In one instance, Jesus responded to the question . . . by holding up a coin and asking "Whose head is this, and whose title?" . . . To grasp the ironic brilliance of Jesus' response, it's helpful to know that the Jews of this time were deeply offended by currency that bore the image of the emperor . . . Only God can make an image of himself, and he did so when he made humans . . . Jesus ingeniously linked the issue . . . with . . . paying taxes. . . Why should we who are God's people fight with each other over how much of this we should keep or give back? . . . The thing people should rather be concerned with, Jesus is saying, is whether or not they are giving to God what bears his image and what therefore belongs wholly to him -- namely our very lives. Indeed, Jesus was ironically suggesting that an inappropriate preoccupation with what we should do with Caesar's image may reflect a heart that is insufficiently preoccupied with what should be done with God's image . . . In this way Jesus wisely used the kingdom-of-the-world issue with its limited and divisive kingdom-of-the-world options as a springboard to pose the kingdom-of-God question and the kingdom-of-God option. He was demonstrating, once again, that he hadn't come to resolve the ambiguous and controversial issues that characterize the kingdom of the world. He rather came to offer all a radical alternative way of doing life, answering a completely different set of questions concerned with living life under the reign of God. (pages 60-61).
I find the quote intriguing, the perspective refreshing, and the opportunity to return to the kind of dinner party that Jesus sent out invitations to some 2,000 years ago more compelling and challenging than ever. I am intrigued not only by what is served up on the table, but the way the Host relates to the guests, and the kind of transformation that begins to take place from the moment the first drops of water touch my feet, 'till the last bit of bread and wine is thoughtfully received, to the invitation to go and live in a way that is characterized by a way of life that is primarily concerned with doing for others what has been done for me, basin and towel in hand . . . being perhaps less concerned with protecting the place I hold at the table . . . and what kind of implications that might have about how I approach and invest myself in the other parties to which I am invited.