One of the characteristics of Jesus’ ministry is that he was known as a
party person. So the gospel of Matthew remembers Jesus
what will I compare this generation? It is like children
the market-places and calling to one another, “We played the flute for
you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not
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!”’ (Matt
11.16-19) Jesus was noted for eating, drinking and being
something else is going on here.
Jesus warns about ‘all kinds of greed’ so we can assume that there is
more than one kind. Obviously there is greed for money, and
of people who are power-hungry. But there is also spiritual
the sort that takes to the person every sort of spiritual superiority.
Sadly, of course, this is not just a personal thing.
dioceses, denominations and faiths: ‘christian’ and calathumpian, do
this on a corporate level. Perhaps they are oblivious to
the way they
put down others, subtly or not so subtly, but I sometimes wonder
They believe that their superiority is God-given, through their race,
colour, culture, gender, orthodoxy, manner of life or
superiority means that they do not have to be concerned with
Their eating, drinking and being merry is always by themselves or with
those like minded individuals and family. It never includes
Just as last week we had the person in bed with his children, not
wanting to disturb his children by getting up to help his importunate
friend at the door, so the rich man in today’s gospel wants to be
comfortable rather at the expense of others. His, or her,
revolves around his, or her, own comfortableness. Like the
with his brothers, they refused to see poor Lazarus at their gate.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating, eating drinking and being
merry, but he did these things entirely with himself, and with those he
loved and those he wanted to keep in with. He needed to
and be merry with the Lazarus at his gate; and we, in our prosperity
need to eat, drink and be merry with others who surround us.
Strangely enough, I have been reflecting on concupiscence in recent
sermons, and here we see it again.
Eternal life comes as we consider others. The man concerned
parent’s inheritance fails to see that Jesus is on about something
quite different. It is not about justice, equity, law or
is about broadening our outlook to consider others in equal terms to
ourselves. Jesus rejects any suggestion that he is a judge
over anyone. So we CANNOT use Jesus to judge
others. To quote
Jesus’ words ‘no one comes to the Father but by me’ to suggest that he
is a judge and arbiter over ‘unbelievers’ is to miss the mark
entirely. To use Jesus to judge anyone else, those who do
like me, worship like me, or live like me, is to make him an arbiter
over others. And doing so we will find ourselves being
I once heard a comment about a person who went to a church school many
years ago. He described it in terms of ‘institutionalised
overlaid with a veneer of tradition which was supposed to make it all
right’. Not unsurprisingly, he hated that school, but that
he was sent because going to ‘that’ school was his passport into
society. And this bullying was sanctioned by the
‘church’. How glad
I am that I went to a government school!
I have begun collecting some quotes from Bishop John Shelby Spong from
the Internet and one here seems appropriate: ‘A major function of
fundamentalist religion is to bolster deeply insecure and fearful
people. This is done by justifying a way of life with all
defining prejudices. It thereby provides an appropriate and
legitimate outlet for one's anger.’ [Rescuing the Bible From
Fundamentalism, (San Fransisco: Harper Collins, 1991), p.
point is that it is not just proponents of fundamentalist religion for
whom this is true. Bullying seems to be the flip-side of
religion, ‘Anglican’, ‘christian’ and calathumpian as well.
To pretend that ‘concupiscence’ only refers to persons and with whom
they are intimate seems to me to be a prime way of exercising
‘concupiscence’ (bullying) in the name of opposing ‘concupiscence’
(intimacy). This is NOT a matter of taking the Bible
not. This causes me to reflect that the preacher who
others reading the Bible the proper way - ‘his way’ - to condemn others
like Buddhists and gay and lesbian persons also wants to bully others -
ultimately to condemn others to eternal damnation if they read the
Bible in any other way. I have to confess I find my reading
ministry and the letters written in the New Testament to be
opposite to how this preacher reads them.
Indeed concupiscence in the New Testament seems to me to be the
equivalent of idolatry in the Old - worshipping the creation (‘me and
like-minded individuals’) rather than the creator who is ever concerned
about all and not just ‘me and my cronies’. And suddenly
becomes rather more real and relevant.
Recently I have been enjoying a parish study group around the
production ‘Saving Jesus’ and we are presently thinking about the
atonement. And it caused me to think how the fact that my
sins being forgiven by the blood of the lamb can be an exercise in
concupiscence as well. How on earth are other people helped
sins being forgiven? We can, and I suspect have done, get
arguments like ‘my sins are more forgiven than yours are!’ and echoes
of some interpretations of the letter to the Hebrews immediately spring
to mind. Or ‘my sins are forgiven but yours aren’t!’
forgives those who worship in my way, believe the same things I do,
live life the way I do, be intimate with those I approve of
on earth does this sort of thinking help humanity in general? - it can
and has been used as much a cause of division as anything else.
Jesus’ death and resurrection was and is only about helping me and
those who think like me, worship like me, believe like me and live like
me, it seems to be essentially selfish, quite the opposite of what
Jesus was killed for.
Jesus exposed and exposes our selfishness, the concupiscence that is
inherent in all of us, but particularly the selfishness justified in
the name of the God who is generous to all, as I noted last week, even
to ‘the ungrateful and the wicked’. (Luke 6.36) For
it is those who
are selfish in the name of God who harm far more people than the
brother who allegedly refused to share his parent’s inheritance with
Over the past years, the church has sought to become a place where
people can eat, drink and be merry, rather than miserable sinners,
berating ourselves endlessly, and a good thing too. People
going to perceive any good news whatsoever if this is what we project
to the world. How glad I am that the old ‘Wee donut’ has
from the modern liturgies: ‘We do not presume to come to this thy
table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy
manifold and great mercies, We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs
under thy table .. I can type this without even looking at
so ingrained is this into my psyche!
The real question remains for us, not that we are joyful, but who we
allow to enter into our joy? Is it Anglicans only, or
only, or people of faith only - or do we extend our communion to the
poor and destitute, perhaps, but the ungrateful and the wicked?
So finally, is our service of Holy Communion restricted to baptised,
confirmed and communicant members of the Anglican Church inherently an
exercise in concupiscence as well? I rather think it is,
remains this exclusive.
So we are called to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ as long as we invite
everyone else along!