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Friday, February 23, 2007

Change of heart

I saw an interesting post by Dennis Hamm, S.J. on Saturday's reading - Luke 5:27-32 - at Creighton University's Daily Reflections page. It's about Jesus having dinner at the house of Matthew (levi) the tax collector - here's some of it ...


In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time and place, this fraternizing with tax collectors was not the behavior of “a nice guy.” It was a startling, attention-getting activity. For in first-century Palestine, tax collectors were considered by their fellow Jews to be collaborators with the hated Romans; they were, after all, collecting taxes for their oppressors. What’s more, they were suspected of skimming off more than their share, as their “commission.” They didn’t have many non-tax-collector friends. And those other folks, the so-called sinners, were people whose way of life kept them from keeping all 613 laws of the Torah; shepherds, for example, whose sheep sometimes ate other people’s property. So tax collectors and sinners were unclean people, or, to use a later Jewish term, un-kosher. Eat with folks like these, and you rendered yourself unclean, unfit for sharing in the temple worship.

Another thing to keep in mind is this: in that Middle Eastern culture, eating with others was considered a very intimate human act. Sharing a meal could be a way of sealing a contract. It created and affirmed a close human bond.

So for Jesus to eat with tax collectors and sinners was egregious behavior, probably more startling to his contemporaries than his healing miracles. And the Gospels suggest that this was something he did regularly. He “ate around” ......

Notice that Luke’s version of this episode makes clear that Jesus is not simply being generously inclusive; as he says, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Enjoying Jesus’ hospitality is supposed to create the occasion for a change of heart.

I can’t read this episode without recalling that Jesus’ last act of table fellowship is the Last Supper, and that our Christian Eucharistic celebrations are re-enactments of that supper. There, at least weekly, we enjoy inclusion in Jesus’ hospitality, not just to make us feel happy at being included but to be invited to a further conversion of heart.

- Matthew and Jesus at the dinner, from the movie Jesus


Blogger Jeff said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Nice post. It seems to me that in a lot of progressive/conservative debates about the meaning and proper interpretation of scripture, that it is not entirely unlike the debate by legal scholars over the meaning of Constitutional Law.

In both cases, the issue seems to be, do we look back to the original intent of the authors to find authenticity, or is it a matter of looking at it as a "living document", that needs to be shaped and adapted to accomodate the new challenges that arise for each generation.

Whichever way we look at it, on one end or the other, or somewhere in between, it is important to try to find out what the original context was for the people it was originally meant to be read by. In all cases, I think this means understanding Jesus within a first-century Jewish context as best as we can. If we stray too far away from that, I think we do so at our own peril.

7:22 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Good post, Crystal. Two things striek me: 1) How powerful and intimate the simple act of eating together can be. Many of my most beautiful memories center around sharing meals with family, friends or strangers. That's why it's so important, I think, that families make time to dine together. Even without children, La Reina and make it a point to eat dinner together as much as possible. (Luckily, we both love to eat!)

2) I'm reminded by your post of how differently Jesus related to power. Today, you'd think the only way to exercise genuine power would be to hang out with the rich, the famous, and the decision-makers. Who, now, would deign to eat a simple meal with the tax-collectors of our own age?

11:16 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


good points! BTW, I saw that the Britanica blog article about the religious beliefs of the founding fathers is up. If your intersted, it's here.

11:41 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


I used to hate eating dinner with tmy family - streeful - but after my stepfather left, the rest of us never really ate together again. Makes me think of that movie, My Dinner with Andre :-)

11:49 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

Nice post, Crystal.

1:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam. hey, I wanted to ask you if you had read anything about a Spanish film on Teresa of Avila ... here's the only link I've found.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks Crystal. That was informative.

Check out some of James Madison's quotes here. I'm most interested in what Madison said, because he was the guy with the real brains behind the Constitution.


Regarding meals, you might be interested in reading The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, with this being Lent and all. They make quite a few points over that.

6:37 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

On the new Spanish film, Teresa: The Body of Christ. I hadn't heard about this - thanks for the link, Crystal. After reading some articles from the Spanish press, I don't think it's going to go down too well with Catholics. Too bad - Teresa's such a fascinating figure, and she's being played by Paz Vega, who is a good actress. (And, yes, not hard to look at.) Viggo Mortensen was attached to the project as well, but decided in the end to stay home with his young son. Geraldine Chaplin's also in it. The director is Ray Loriga, better known in Spain as a novelist. (Liam, didn't we see him at Cine California at the opening night of Lost Highway?)Granted, some of the Spanish priests and Bishops can be so rightwing as to make Bill Donohoe seem like a leftist revolutionary, but the film evidently concentrates on the "carnal" aspects of Teresa's mystical relationship with Christ. The marketing poster alone is going to cause controversy. Again, too bad, because there's definitely a sexual and feminist aspect to Teresa's writing/life that's worth exploring, but it seems they've played this up while ignoring everything else. To be fair, the director of the Department of Cinema of the Episcopal Conference (the Church's Film Office, I guess - Liam?) said the film was NOT offensive at any moment, that the poster was simply a "provocation" and didn't represent at all the general tone of the film. He did add, however, that Loriga and Vega didn't really understand Teresa, that they didn't capture her well. He also said he didn't know who would actually see the film, as the subject matter wouldn't appeal to non-Catholics and Catholics would probably avoid it. To which I reply, a sexually provocative poster about Jesus and a saint, and people getting their knickers in knot over the film, will ALWAYS sell tickets. I'll be curious to read more about it when it comes out. Teresa is a favorite, and I'd like to know if/how they portray San Juan de la Cruz.

8:57 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Jeff, thanks for the book recommendation. I've put it on hold at the library.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

I knew Ray Loriga -- I worked on one of his films and he lived in my neighborhood in Madrid and ran into him now and then. He's a nice guy, but I thought his movie was a bit too much the product of a hot hipster young novelist whose wife is a rock singer -- a wee bit pretentious and oh-so-cool. I don't know if he could pull off a project like this.

On the other hand, I don't trust the Spanish bishops at all. They tend to be very conservative and nostalgic for Franco. It could be a "Last Temptation of Christ" type thing -- people complaining about a movie they haven't seen, based on assumptions that aren't true.

10:35 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks William and Liam for the movie info.

That poster :-). If I understand correctly, the film is out, at least over there, and the Tablet had a review of it, but I couldn't read it because I'm not a subscriber. From the title of the article, I think they didn't like it, and the Tablet's pretty open0minded.

The issue of religious experience being romantic/erotic is interesting ... John of the Cross had some pretty sensual poetry directed to God.

12:14 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Actually, the film hasn't come out in Spain yet. It premieres on March 9, so the dude from the Church Film Office must have seen a pre-release screening.

That poster, yes. Though you can't see much of Christ's face, the moustache reminds me for some reason of a younger David Crosby. An absolutely terrifying thought.

The erotic nature of spirituality would be an excellent topic for a film, but the writer and director would have to have a fuller grasp of the wholistic nature of the experience. Not sure Ray Loriga's up to that. Bergman could have done it - and maybe did in something I haven't seen. Andrei Tarkovsky could have done it. Of course, then the film would be six hours long and the saint's name would have to be Andrei.

Hmm . . . I could probably struggle through six hours of Paz Vega. As difficult as that might be. For the sake of cinema and religion, I would sacrifice.

1:17 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I've always wanted to write a screenplay ... a six hour X rtated religious movie sounds do-able. Maybe I could resurrect Sergei Eisenstein to direct ... but the saint would have to be named Alexander and it would have to take place on a frozen lake, and the X would be for violence, not sex. oh well ... :-)

Speaking of romantic religious poetry, there's that Donne "Batter My Heart" poem.

1:40 PM  

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