Historical Cultural Context
Insiders & Outsiders
Our group-oriented ancestors in the Faith put their primary and greatest faith in the family. This was the core of the “inside”; everyone else was “outside.” At a higher level, the chosen people of God were the “insiders,” while all others were outsiders.
The normal way to become an “insider” is to be born into the family or group. But all societies recognize other ways of becoming an “insider.” One general method is to share the same substance that a natural-born child would share with the parents.
Thus unrelated children who share the same wet nurse become kin to each other and may not marry each other. Or, two unrelated individuals who share blood become “blood relatives.” Societies often select a common bodily substance (blood, saliva, semen, or milk), which when commingled establishes a relationship of kinship between two people.
A second way of becoming “related” or becoming “an insider” is by the exchange of food through commensality, or eating together. Friendships are sealed and strangers are integrated into the community by sharing a common meal, even when the ritual aspects of this act of eating together are not explicit.
This understanding of table fellowship lies at the heart of Paul’s argument in Galatians 1-2.
Peter the Judean used to eat with Gentile converts (non-Judeans) and with this ritual action clearly proclaimed that Judean and non-Judean believers in Jesus were kin.
When some Judean believers scolded Peter for eating with believers in Jesus who had not also been circumcised (that is, who had not become Judeans first before becoming messianists), Peter stopped eating with the non-Judean believers.
Paul was livid. Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with non-Judean believers in Jesus amounted to saying that these non-Judeans were not really related or part of the same family as Judean believers in Jesus.
Eating with Jesus
Jesus’ contemporaries in Luke 13 are claiming the same thing. “By eating with us, Jesus, you have made us kin with you. We are your fictive relatives. Why now are you excluding us from fellowship?”
Jesus’ answer has already been given earlier in this same chapter (Lk 13:2 and 5): “Unless you repent, you will all perish . . .” It is not enough to have shared a meal with Jesus. A radical change of life is also necessary to establish a kinship relationship with him.
Jesus’ contemporaries remind him: “You taught in our streets.” Jesus’ harsh reply to them insinuates: “Yes, but all you did was listen. You did not take my teaching to heart and reform your lives. You think superficial acquaintance with me and my teachings suffices.”
Jesus offers a prophetic warning to believers of all times. Only those will join him at the heavenly banquet who seek to understand him and his message, who seek to learn “the honest truth about Jesus” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, 19).
John J. Pilch
John J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and facilitator of parish renewals.
Liturgical Press has published fourteen books by Pilch exploring the cultural world of the Bible
**From Saint Louis University