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The Way of Affirmation


The Gospel lectionary reading for today comes from  Luke 7:31-35,
Jesus said, 'To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,"We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep."For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, "He has a demon"; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, "Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!" Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.'
This brief passage reveals some truths both familiar and, perhaps, unfamiliar. First, the familiar: you can't please everybody all the time. Even Jesus could not do it, so how much less can we? And yet some of us try to do just that in life and get discouraged when we fail. What a waste of time and energy!

Jesus points out that the people of his day were not happy with either of two extremes: neither his personality and style of ministry nor that of John the Baptist, his cousin. This leads us to consider a second, less familiar truth.

Some people tend to have one view of what it means to be religious or to be a Christian for that matter. And their view is basically negative. They think that religion consists of giving up things, of living with very little in the way of this world's possessions like John the Baptist did, wearing clothes made out of camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey out in the desert. John the Baptist did not eat elaborate food and, according to Jesus, he did not drink wine. That is what many people think defines a religious person: asceticism.

But that is a false picture, or at best, only half the picture. Yes, some people are called to live their lives like John the Baptist. Of that I have no doubt. But Jesus did not live that way. He was apparently accused on more than one occasion of being, what the King James Version calls, "a glutton and a wine-bibber"! Jesus liked hanging out at parties with "tax collectors and sinners". In other words, Jesus liked spending time with those whom the religious establishment thought disreputable. If anything reveals that God loves everyone, I think Jesus' lifestyle and approach to people does.

Jesus' lifestyle and words also show us that there is not just one way to be religious. Jesus spoke very highly of his cousin John the Baptist. But Jesus' own lifestyle was very different.

Some have called these two ways of religious life: "The Way of Denial" (or negation) and "The Way of Affirmation". The former is the life of John the Baptist, the latter is that of Jesus. And for those who like C. S. Lewis, he certainly was more in "the way of affirmation" camp. Frankly, that's where I live my life most of the time, not that there are not times when self-denial must be practiced in a very specific way. But I am encouraged by the fact that Jesus enjoyed food, drank wine, and had fun at parties. I think that means it is ok if we follow in his footsteps. 

Perhaps the way of affirmation was best summed up in the words of St. Irenaeus who said: "The glory of God is man fully alive."

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