Monday, July 7, 2008

N.T. Wright on the fourth request

They said a lot of things about Jesus during his lifetime, by no means all complimentary. One particularly juicy phrase sticks out: he was, they said, 'a glutton and a winebibber'. You can just see Jesus' opponents rolling that one round their tongues with relish. But do you know where the phrase comes from? It's actually a quotation from Deuteronomy 21, in which the Israelites are told what to do with a stubborn and rebellious son. The parents are to bring him to the elders of the town, and say 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a winebibber', and they must stone him to death. So there was more to the charge against Jesus than just that he went to too many parties. It was a way of saying: he is being profoundly disloyal to our traditions; he deserves to die.

But Jesus was following the agenda he set out in the Lord's Prayer. He wasn't a rebellious son; he was loyal to the one he called 'Father'. His eating and drinking with his motley collection of friends was a deliberate sign of the Kingdom. His parties weren't simply a matter of cracking open another bottle for the sake of it; and the prayer to the Father for daily bread was part of his wider and deeper agenda.

At the heart of it stood a central biblical symbol of the kingdom: the great festive banquet which God has prepared for his people. This picture goes back to the vision of the land flowing with milk and honey; to the Psalmist, saying 'Thou shalt prepare a table before me, in the presence of my foes'; to the children of Israel, being fed with quails and manna in the wilderness; to prophecies like that of Isaiah, that

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for
all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud over all people;
he will swallow up death for ever.
He will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people
he will take away from all the earth.
(Isaiah 25:6-8)

The banquet, the party, is a sign that God is acting at last, to rescue his people and wipe away all tears from all eyes. Jesus' parties, and his feeding of his followers in the wilderness, were intended, for those with eyes to see, to pick up this whole theme and celebrate it. As so often, the most powerful things Jesus said were in actions, not words.

N.T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer

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