My last blog contrasted service from gratitude with service from guilt. In our democratic, middle-class society, we miss the cultural difference that leads to a better appreciation of Luke 17:7-10 and John 13:1-17. Here are some eye-openers.
A MODERN ANALOGY
Moved by Brexit’s complexity and division, suppose Queen Elizabeth decides she must set an example. If everyone would pull together, solutions can be reached. She organizes a press conference to follow her lead. Into the limousine, to a street where some homeless people are sitting or lying around. She approaches a man and asks his name, which he gave after a dumbfounded moment. After much pleading and patience, she convinces “John” to come back with her to the palace.
She says she wants to make John a joint-heir with her son Charles (cp. Romans 8:17). So they can begin the process of pulling together. Inside the front doors at the palace, she asks the servants for a chair, basin of water, and soap. She insists on having help to get down onto her own knees and wash his feet herself. In front of the press. To make a statement: whatever it takes!
SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
This is similar to Christ’s era when approximating the shock that Jesus caused by washing the disciples’ feet. Except we’re elected to be joint-heirs with the King of Kings, not just a king. Remember, familiarity can breed apathy, which can breed contempt. Today
these texts are invitations to presumption. If Jesus…is coming to serve us, fine; here we are, expecting to reap the benefits of his service! While in no way denying the thrust of the above…Jesus clearly asserts…. He is the master!Poet & Peasant, and Through Peasant Eyes
There are also cultural differences between ancient Palestine and England.
In the West, having a servant puts a person in (at least) the upper-middle class, but not so in the East. The poorest of the poor let their children out as servants so that they can be fed, and the people of very little means have such servants in their homes. James, John, and their father, Zebedee, own a boat and have hired servants (Mark 1:20)…. The plowman/herdsman is also the cook…the ordinary man has at least one slave…. In the Middle East, the traditional roles of master and servant are well-defined. For a master to serve his own servants is unheard of! This dramatic reversal is enacted by Jesus…described…in Philippians 2:6-7.Poet & Peasant, and Through Peasant Eyes
In the Middle East, eating only with equals is one of the most critical ways to adhere to the above-mentioned cultural differences. In Genesis 18,
After Abraham killed the calf to feed the Lord and his servants…. His knowledge of the nature of his visitors is shown also by the fact that he apparently did not consider himself worthy to eat with them….New Manners and Customs of the Bible
In Egypt, for Joseph (Genesis 43:32),
They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews…. As often happens, many years later those who had been detested now detested others and made it a law that no Jew could eat with a Gentile….New Manners and Customs of the Bible
In Esther 1:9,
Queen Vashti also gave a banquet…. The women did not have banquets in the same room with the men. This separation of sexes is an ancient custom that was observed at this time at the court of Persia….New Manners and Customs of the Bible
It was a rare privilege for a subject, however high his station, to be permitted to banquet with the king. Occasionally, however, this was allowed, and Haman had reason to feel highly honored at the invitation…. It should be understood, however, that no equality was meant by this invitation to feast with royalty, and the honored guest was so seated as to remind him of his inferior position in relation to the king….New Manners and Customs of the Bible
And in Luke 14:9-10,
The host did not hesitate to regulate the position of his guests after they had seated themselves. He gave the highest rank the chief place, sending the guests up or down as circumstances required.New Manners and Customs of the Bible
BANQUETING WITH US?
In this context the King of kings told the parable of Luke 17:7-10, but
Jesus eats with his disciples and even with sinners. The disciples are called friends, not servants (John 15:15), even though the servant is not greater than his master (John 15:20). Jesus stands at the door eager to enter and eat with anyone who will open (Revelation 3:20). Whatever these images mean, they do not mean an easy equality….Poet & Peasant, and Through Peasant Eyes
In the above modern, Westernized analogy, when the homeless man John was to become joint-heir with Charles, that illustrates our election. Many years ago I thought Calvinism makes Christians shirk witnessing. Then I read Christian Take Heart and particularly A Vision For Missions. This was a life-changing event for me. Grasping just a little of the enormity of who God is, and who we are in contrast, is a bare beginning. Then we start to recognize God’s saving power in our very corrupted wills and desires. Nothing can swell gratitude and crush guilt more effectively.
The above picture is scanned from Christ Gateway