There is a restaurant in North Carolina which gives a discount to customers who are seen praying during their meal. My first response was, Lord have Mercy! My second response was just to shake my head. My third response, as a Christian, well, I find it disgusting. Let’s get one thing straight. The restaurant is privately owned. They have a right to do this, no matter how absurd it is. One suspects they were planning to do a little discriminating, giving the discount to someone of their same religious persuasion. The problem is that they’ve made a mockery prayer.
Maybe, if I’d not been doing some thinking about this, lately, I wouldn’t have paid much attention. I come from a family which prays before meals – always. I’ve always wondered about this. Yes, we are to thank the Lord for our blessings and for the bounty of our meal. We are to thank Him for providing for us. How much is this about Christ, about thanking God, and how much is nothing more than tradition?
I always think of the ancient Greco-Roman tradition of a libation, which is basically a tip of the wine glass, spilling a little for the gods. Unfortunately, that is basically the western origins of giving thanks at a meal. The entire litany of today’s Holy Eucharist has its origins, not only in the Last Supper, but in ancient Roman traditions. The very process of giving thanks during a meal is not intrinsically either Jewish or Christian. It was basically tradition, a nod to the Gods.
A couple months ago, while I was eating out with my mother and my father, who has Alzheimer’s, I noticed that my father began the traditional family prayer before eating – a blessing. The server was left, standing there, waiting, for him to finish praying. No, I can’t even pawn this one off on his AD. He always did this.
It started me thinking about all those years, all those servers left standing, while someone prayed. It suddenly dawned on me, not only was it just plain inconsiderate on the part of the person praying, but it was also a violation of Christ’s teaching.
5 ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may b.e siteen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Anyone familiar with the process knows that the Lord’s Prayer comes next.
If you know your Roman social traditions, when a family sat for a formal meal, the head of the family would pour wine into his goblet. He would offer it to the gods, with a blessing. He would then sop it with a pinch of bread, and say a blessing to the gods. The family would do the same, taking a piece of the bread, sopped with wine, and quickly consuming it. He would then toss the remaining blessed wine onto the floor, in a libation. Then, they ate their meal. Anyone familiar with the formal Holy Eucharist of the Catholic Church and we evil Episcopalians will recognize the process. The difference, originally, was that the first version of the HE were with a meal, very much like the Roman traditions.
The Jewish people have a chaburah meal, a weekly gathering usually on the eve of the Sabbath. The Last Supper was just that – a chaburah meal. While some think that the Last Supper was part of the Passover Meal, they are wrong. Passover was to begin at sunset, the day Christ was Crucified, which is the reason for the haste in removing his body from the cross, and interring it so quickly. It is also the reason that Mary Magdalene waited until the day after the Sabbath, Sunday, to return to his tomb to properly anoint his body with traditional spices and oils.
It makes perfect sense, a blending of cultures and traditions, and accommodation to the customs of Rome. Today we have a tendency to ignore just how important Rome was at that time. Rome was everything. Rome ruled. If you are a believer, the way I am, the very process of the evolution of what Christ taught, in social context of Rome was staggering, stunning. It is something that is conveniently ignored today. It must be ignored, or else the implications are far greater than what certain groups want to admit.
It was tradition for people to give thanks to the gods, starting from the most primitive of cultures, evolving into ancient Roman rituals. When put in this context, it is easy to understand why Christ was so against praying in public. It wasn’t about communicating with God, it was about being seen praying in public. It was about public piety.
I don’t know about you, but I’m no longer comfortable making a big issue about praying in a restaurant, at a meal. The Lord knows my heart. He knows that I finally understand that He provides for us. Discovering that a restaurant owner in North Carolina is now providing discounts for anyone willing to violate the teachings of Christ, and display their piety in public just proves my point. Am I praying in public because of sincerity, or because I want to be seen praying in public. If I’m sincere, I can pray and do so privately, the way Christ said we should pray. Let’s face it, anything else is just plain rude. It also makes a mockery of what we believe.
NO PORTION OF THIS POST MAY BE REPRODUCED FOR ANY PURPOSE. Copyright 2014 by SJ Reidhead