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The Feast is Prepared

(This continues our conversation about Curiosity, in this case, curiosity about others.)

Jesus sincerely messed with the status quo. Didn’t he know that there were people you talked to and people you didn’t? Didn’t he know that you associated with certain people, and others you didn’t associate with? Didn’t he know that you could touch some people and not others? Didn’t he know that healing was fine, but only if it wasn’t on the Sabbath? Didn’t he know that he was causing a stir, that people were talking, that the rabbis and the Pharisees were really unhappy? Of course, he knew. That was the point.

There was a definite social structure to Jesus’ time. You were in the "in" crowd if you were a Jewish male (it probably didn't hurt if you were fairly well-to-do, either). You were in the "out" crowd if you were a woman, a child, infirm, crippled, poor, a Gentile, a Samaritan, a tax collector, "sinners." But who did Jesus hand out with, eat with, talk to and heal?  EVERYONE.

Jesus, the one we follow as our teacher and our guide, did NOT draw lines of exclusion – gender, social, religious, political. Jesus modeled an open table where no one was better than anyone else. In Luke 7:34, Jesus himself tells us that he was derided for this open table when he says, "The Chosen One came and both ate and drank and you day, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" 

As Sister Nancy Schreck writes, this was not just a model of inclusion, but a model of non-violence. People criticized him for being a “friend” to tax collectors and sinners. He didn’t just eat at their homes. He didn’t just lecture them. He apparently got to know them. Jesus developed relationships with the people around him. The only way to do that is to be curious, to ask and to listen, to learn and to grow.

When use our curiosity to develop relationships, we create community, and when we create community, we are participating in an act of resistance against the violence that seems so prevalent these days; because it is always division that precedes violence. The “ins” and “outs,” or “us” and “them,” or “those people” - I don’t believe these categories existed for Jesus because all were part of God’s boundless, unconditional love. 

Humans like to maintain divisions. We gravitate toward people who look like us, talk like us, dress like us. We want to belong, to be liked, to be comfortable, to be validated in our thinking and behavior. Sometimes we want to maintain our judgments, our grudges, our dislike. We don’t want to change our opinions.

Curiosity helps keep us out of judgment. It is a way of seeking to know another better and to understand another better because you are genuinely interested. So, here’s an interesting thing I read… we should never ask a question onto which it would feel natural to attach the words “you idiot.” Then the question is not about curiosity, but a judgment couched in a question. Sometimes this comes across simply through our inflection. Why would you do that… you idiot?!  Versus Could you explain to me why you did it that way? Think about it. Listen to your own voice. It makes sense.

We’re approaching Thanksgiving in a few short days. A time when most of us will gather around tables with friends and relatives. Who gets invited and why? Who doesn’t get invited and why? Who do you wish wasn’t invited and why? Who would be the hardest person for you to have at your Thanksgiving table and why?

All those people we would struggle to have at our tables wouldn’t faze Jesus in the least. He wasn’t threatened by what anyone else thought or said. And he had an innate sense of curiosity. It helps if our questions draw us to a deeper level. Then curiosity can deepen our conversations, deepen our understanding, and deepen our connections.

If we need help being curious there are games out there now to help draw people out. I have used these around the campfire or at Thanksgiving dinner: Chat Packs (there are a number of versions), Vertellis (which encourages deeper conversations), and The Hygge Game.

Another type of table people gather around where curiosity is just as important in getting past division: the negotiating table. There is a story in the book Negotiation Genius, written by Harvard professors Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman about a businessman they call “Chris” whose American firm was negotiating with a European company to purchase an ingredient for a new health-care product. The price was agreed upon, but negotiations came to a standstill because they couldn’t agree on an exclusivity agreement. The European company simply would not agree to only supply the American company with this specific ingredient. As a last resort, the American company flew Chris over to meet with them. At the bargaining table, the issue of exclusivity continued to be a roadblock, but then Chris asked a very simply question: why?

The answer was unexpected: exclusivity would require him to violate an agreement with his cousin, who currently purchased 250 pounds of the ingredient each year to make a locally sold product. With this information, Chris could propose a solution: other than a few hundred pounds sold to the supplier’s cousin annually, the rest would be sold exclusively to them. 

Let me keep broadening the conversation. We began around our tables, moved to our Thanksgiving tables, then to the negotiating table, and now I ponder war and violence. Gretta Vosper wrote a compelling poem and substack blog about six weeks ago about the deep need, yet seeming impossibility of seeing, truly seeing each other. Her crazy suggestion, perhaps call it a dream, was to line up leaders, soldiers and civilians on either side of the conflict across from one another.

She writes: “No words. No weapons. Only one courageous rule of engagement: look into the eyes of the other. Put as much effort into the struggle to hold that gaze as you would into holding your ground in battle. Just hold your gaze. Only your eyes, loaded with the truth of who you are locked on the truth of the other. Only the endless pools of your eyes falling into the liquid black of the other; into the depths of the humanity you share. Could we then dare put an end to such wonder?”

When was the last time you dared to look into another's eyes in this way? Give it a shot sometime. Have the courage to look with openness into the eyes of another, without words, without actions. Simply look, hold the gaze for a few moments. Allow the truth of who you are to see the truth of who they are – fully human, with joys, sorrows, regrets, fears, scars. Everything you have. May the realization penetrate for you just for a moment that you are them and they are you. We are one.

Yesterday, after this message, we broke bread around tables just like Jesus did time and time again. It’s almost a shame that we only celebrate the last time he broke bread before his arrest, because I feel certain that he broke bread over and over again – with the 5,000 families, with Zacchaeus the tax collector, with Pharisees and lepers, with Mary and Martha, with the one who would betray him and with his beloved disciple. He shared so many meals, lifted so many glasses, that he was referred to by those who didn’t understand him as a glutton and a drunkard. But he wasn’t, he was modeling what it was like to build relationships, to build bridges, to include people in the inclusive, unconditional love of God.

Love & Light!