Jesus, The Beastie Boys, and Emily Post
When I was a teenager, I used to collect etiquette books.
You could find me hunting them down in thrift shops and used book stores, and I scoured the library for more, books from the 1960s all the way back to the 1890s.
All of them had rules, and I loved rules. I’m probably letting you too far into my psyche by revealing this, but I am the original Goody Two-Shoes. I never met a standard I didn’t love achieving or a rule I didn’t love following. My older and younger sisters were the rebels and I was the good girl. And when I finished following all the regular rules of home and school, I wanted more. I didn’t just read Emily Post, I wanted to be her.
Of course, looking back, what I really wanted was a sense of security.
As a teenager growing up in a conflicted environment, I wanted some way to make sense of it. Those etiquette books spoke to me of a beautiful, refined world, where everyone always knew the right thing to say, where there was always an easily defined right thing to do, and people were kind and considerate.
I imagined myself going to elegant parties in floor-length dresses and knowing the complex codes of when to drop a glove to catch a young man’s attention or flutter my fan to send a message across a crowded room. When I got caught up in junior high mean girls scenarios, I could always go back to my etiquette books and imagine myself in a world where everyone was kind and everyone was polite.
So imagine my delight to find Jesus dedicating an entire set of teachings to etiquette at parties! Jesus understands that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things in social interaction.
But if Jesus wrote in to Emily Post, I’m not sure she would agree with his rules of etiquette.
Emily advocates pre-defined dinner seating, carefully chosen to maximize good conversation, with tasteful place cards so everyone knows exactly where to sit.
Jesus advocates wrecking the entire seating pattern right in the middle of dinner, with high ranking people shifting down and handing around the place of honor around like a party favor based on whoever shows up next. What kind of disorganized mess is this?
Emily Post also advocates a careful protocol of reciprocity in giving luncheons or dinners. Keep track of your invitations, your RSVPs, and your calling cards, so you can make sure to rotate through your friends with reciprocal invitations in an appropriate time frame, inviting them to your home after they invite you to theirs. You have to keep the social scales balanced.
But Jesus says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return.” Invite you in return, right, that’s how Emily says it’s supposed to go. But Jesus says, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
So it seems at first like Emily Post and Jesus of Nazareth are at odds.
Emily and Jesus were the two great loves of my teenage heart, how can I tolerate them not agreeing with each other? That’s not polite and proper! That doesn’t ease the flow of social interaction, and that’s the whole point of etiquette!
But here’s where Emily and Jesus are in perfect alignment, and one reason why I love them both.
Their fundamental assumption about what should be happening in the world at any given time is that it should be a party.
I love that so much.
Both Emily and Jesus focus their entire worldview through what happens when groups of people gather together in fellowship, to share conversation and food and unhurried time with one another, face to face.
Jesus, of course, takes it much further than Emily does.
Jesus is saying that not only should the people of God be partying together at every available opportunity, he is positing partying as a core methodology of addressing injustice.
Read the text. He’s talking about inequality. He’s talking about class division. He’s talking about people laboring under poverty and limited from full membership in society by physical disability and chronic pain.
And Jesus says the way to fix that is to make our life together a banquet, to change the world by throwing parties.
To me that is an entirely worthy stance to honor his mother’s plans for throwing down the mighty from their thrones and sending the rich away empty.
We’re familiar with Jesus using table fellowship as a core practice of his teaching and ministry, but when you get down to it, it’s hard to find an important moment in the gospels that doesn’t revolve around a banquet or festive gathering.
He starts with the wedding at Cana and ends with the Last Supper—gatherings for food and fellowship.
Mary and Martha, the feeding of the five thousand, the woman who anoints him with oil, the breakfast on the beach, countless parables told at parties that are about parties, all pointing toward the Heavenly Banquet.
It’s a metaphor of radical abundance, unhindered welcome, and joy experienced in community.
And honestly, we want no part of it.
Richard Rohr calls this the resented banquet. Our scarcity-driven egos really don’t believe in and don’t want grace.
We don’t want environments that overthrow purity codes and power structures. We want an inside and an outside, with us on the inside. I want my rulebook! I want my Emily Post!
There is no more vivid illustration of the resented banquet than the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son.
He would rather miss the party altogether than celebrate with those he considers unworthy, who haven’t worked hard enough to “earn” grace.
You’ve seen this exact dynamic playing out over the last week with the people angry about student loan forgiveness. There is a glorification of suffering here, and a deep resentment of the spirit of jubilee, of forgiveness and freedom and, well, partying.
But that resentment of grace is a joyless way to live, and one I see myself fall into all too often.
But Jesus understands. He understands our love for structures and guidelines and rules.
I’m actually a homebody. I’m an introvert. I really don’t like parties. The small talk of coffee hour is my Achilles heel in ministry.
And that’s actually part of why I love etiquette books. They give me a set of rules and structures to navigate the confusing swirls of conversations and social undercurrents that come into play when people gather.
Jesus knew that we were unlikely to give up our love for rules when he came and upended everything to bring in the Kingdom of God.
And so he gave us a new set of rules.
Sit at the lowest place. Prioritize hospitality and welcome to those you would normally not spend time with. Cross boundaries of wealth and privilege and dwell together in humility before God and one another.
There’s a case to be made that Jesus was crucified in large part for eating with sinners one too many times.
One too many parties. The authorities aren’t going to stand for that.
And what I really want to get to here is that Jesus wasn’t throwing parties left right and center just for the fun of it.
He wasn’t some frat boy with cash to blow and his parents’ house on loan for the weekend.
Jesus was throwing parties that were incredibly politically pointed.
Jesus’ parties were acts of defiance against the powers and principalities.
Jesus stood up to the religious authorities who would strangle people with purity codes and to the secular authorities of empire who would enslave an entire nation and said, “We’re going to party anyway. Try and stop us. Try and rob us of our joy. Try and keep us from breaking down barriers that divide us. Watch us live into fellowship and justice and peace by breaking bread and drinking wine together.”
Jesus partied with purpose, to undermine unjust power, to heal the brokenhearted, to nourish the lonely and rejected.
In the immortal words of the Beastie Boys, “You have to fight for your right to party.” This might be an effective summing up of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry.
What would our lives be like if we lived out Jesus’ agenda?
What would our day-to-day experience be like if we knew that our number one commandment was to live life like it was a party, a party that has the explicit purpose of fighting injustice and bathing God’s people in joy and acceptance?
Emily Post says, “Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor. Etiquette is not a rigid code of manners. It is simply how persons’ lives touch one another.”
Jesus says, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
We often think we are the ones offering hospitality to the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
But in actuality, we are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
We are all the younger prodigal son, and the more we think we are the older, dutiful son, reading our etiquette books and following the rules, paying back our loans and racking up righteousness points, the more we prove that we understand neither grace nor our deep need for it.
We can cling to our rules and the security we think they offer, but Jesus will drag us kicking and screaming into his world of abundance and joy, of welcome and nourishment, of defeating pride and domination with the bliss of unexpected fellowship over bread and wine.
The table is set. Will you come? Will you accept the invitation?
We’re all welcome–Jesus, Emily, the Romans, the student loan borrowers, the student loan lenders, the disciples, the Beastie Boys, the sinners and the saints. As James Joyce said of the Kingdom of God, “Here comes everyone.”
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