“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” – Matthew 11:18-19
On the last night of our retreat at Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery in France, the nuns who led my small group invited us to a potato barbecue. When everyone else began observing noble silence, we lit the tiny hibachi outside the tea house and rummaged through the garden for things to grill.
In addition to potatoes, we grabbed zucchini, snap peas, and kale. We brushed them with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt, and put them over the fire. Our conversation was easy, and the night was a feast.
But off in the corner, one nun sat with her back to the group. When the laughter got too loud, she turned in to shush us. Chastened, we lowered our voices until our joy got the better of us again.
I think this is how Jesus and his disciples are seen by their contemporaries. Troublemakers. Class clowns. Party animals. They do not appear to be taking the spiritual life quite seriously enough. They are having entirely too much fun.
The true believers are skeptical of pleasure. Then and now. Spiritual people, we’re told, train their minds on loftier subjects. They aren’t carried away with celebration.
But Jesus is frequently spotted at parties, hanging out next to the water wine jugs and passing the potatoes (my translation). He’s preparing his followers for a heavenly banquet, and teaching them that joy is not a distraction from the spiritual life. It’s the heart of it.
Troublemaker, may I never shush your sacred feast.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.