bible blog 1462

The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headlines are meant to keep my thinking real:


First reading

Philippians 2:1-4 ©
If our life in Messiah means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy, then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. That is the one thing which would make me completely happy. There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, So that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead.
If you like to compare Paul’s life-coaching of his Philippians with the sort of self-centred psychobabble provided by the average life-coach today; or with the training provided for young executives in multi-national eneterprises; it becomes clear how distinctive and disturbing he was. His vocabulary of love, common spirit, tenderness, sympathy points to attitudes we would all welcome in our communities, but is rarely if ever used by the gurus of liberal capitalism. Anyone advocating “no competition” as useful for your career, or forbidding self-conceit amongst budding celebrities, would be asked to leave the building. As for thinking the other person  better than yourself, what sort of miserable, whingeing, defeatist attitude is this? Indeed Frederik Nietzsche characterised this aspect of Christian theology as a “slave morality”.
life coaching

life coaching

Where does Paul get this stuff? It’s in the first phrase, “If our life in Messiah means anything to you.” The model for Paul’s community ethics is Jesus Messiah, whose downwardly mobile life is described in the passage I’ll use tomorrow. Today, it’s enough to note that in its quiet way, Paul’s ethical teaching was very radical in the Roman Empire of his day, and remains distinctively countercultural in the UK now. “Nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead”-what sort of nutters are these?


Luke 14:12-14 ©
Jesus said to his host, one of the leading Pharisees, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’
In Jesus’ society as in ours, dinner parties were ways of cementing and extending friendship networks amongst people of similar social status, although the odd person of superior status might be invited and viewed as a great catch. There’s nothing altruistic about such occasions, although they may be pleasant enough for the participants. You expect that your outlay will be beneficial in providing you with good contacts and will be recompensed by invitations to the dinner parties of your circle.
Jesus was not talking about small gatherings of affectionate personal friends but about social occasions that oiled the wheels of society. But why was he so down on them? Didn’t he realise their usefulness? And isn’t his recommendation about giving parties for poor disabled people compltely ridiculous? Surely this command has never been obeyed except perhaps by hysterical extremists like St.Francis of Assisi. Oh I suppose you can point to Christmas cakes and ale given to the poor by the Lord of Manor at Christmas, and other toe-curling bits of philanthropic patronage in later centuries. But surely the great sucess of the modern food-bank is precisely that the givers don’t have to get to near to the poor, who in turn don’t have to put up with the intolerable condescension of the rich.
Jesus himself ate with Pharisees as well as prosperous social outcasts like tax collectors, but there no evidence of him entertaining the poor, unless we count the feeding of the 5000. 
Some scholars have interpreted Jesus ‘ words as “parabolic” or as using “exaggeration for effect”. My guess is that Luke expected this command of Jesus to be obeyed by the faith communities for whom he was writing. In fact his second volume, The Acts of the Apostles” records such radical hospitality amongst the first believers. And in truth I know a couple who always invite all their neighbours (some of whom are poor) when they have a party in their flat. Whenever a reported command of Jesus seems daft to us, we should assume it’s genuine. As today’s readings show, Jesus and Paul are about as daft as each other.

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