Sunday, December 01, 2013

A false agape - The Instructor on eating

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"whence some, speaking with unbridled tongue, dare to apply the name agape, to pitiful suppers, redolent of savour and sauces. Dishonouring the good and saving work of the Word, the consecrated agape, with pots and pouring of sauce; and by drink and delicacies and smoke desecrating that name, they are deceived in their idea, having expected that the promise of God might be bought with suppers." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Agape, or Love Feasts, were not peculiar to Christianity put were also forms of public entertainment in Clement's day. Though that which was observed by the church was markedly different from that which was observed by the surrounding culture, even the church's Love Feasts were counterfeited by such false christian churches as those of the Marcionites and others. However, Clement condemns all such entertainments, or Love Feasts, where the chief focus was on food rather than love. Such entertainments serve neither the body nor the cause of love.
For they have not yet learned that God has provided for His creature (man I mean) food and drink, for sustenance, not for pleasure; since the body derives no advantage from extravagance in viands. For, quite the contrary, those who use the most frugal fare are the strongest and the healthiest, and the noblest; as domestics are healthier and stronger than their masters, and husbandmen than the proprietors; and not only more robust, but wiser, as philosophers are wiser than rich men. For they have not buried the mind beneath food, nor deceived it with pleasures. But love (agape) is in truth celestial food, the banquet of reason." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
It is not that we should give up such entertaining, but we should remember their purpose. God has given us food, not for pleasure, but for sustenance. Therefore, in our Love Feasts, or in our entertaining, our focus should not be on food but on love, for this is the true food of our spiritual banquet.
"But the hardest of all cases is for charity, which faileth not, to be cast from heaven above to the ground into the midst of sauces... And do you imagine that I am thinking of a supper that is to be done away with?... For the supper is made for love, but the supper is not love (agape); only a proof of mutual and reciprocal kindly feeling." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Entertaining is not about the food, but it is about love! If all we do is feed people a extravagant meal then we are like those whom Paul wrote about who did all things, but "without love." Consider the story when Mary and Martha decided to entertain Jesus at their house. "Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations." (Luke 10:39-40) Martha was busy about the meal. its preparation, its selection, and its presentation, while Mary was conversing with Jesus. One was concerned with food and the other with love. A simple meal shared with love is better than a grand meal with little affection.
"But let the entertainment depend on love. For it is said, 'Let the children whom Thou hast loved, O Lord, learn that it is not the products of fruits that nourish man; but it is Thy word which preserves those who believe on Thee.' 'For the righteous shall not live by bread.' But let our diet be light and digestible, and suitable for keeping awake, unmixed with diverse varieties." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Here is the crux of the matter, when we entertain, either in small intimate settings or in large public feasts, let our focus and aim be on love not food. Let our feasting be on love and our food for our substance for entertaining is not about food but about love.

David Robison

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