Culture At Large

Last meals and the Last Supper

Paul Vander Klay

The state of Texas had a tradition of allowing Death Row inmates a request for their last meal. After convicted white supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer ordered an inordinately large meal and then refused to eat it, the state of Texas reversed its policy.

Brian Price, who has cooked meals for over 200 death row inmates, offered to continue to do so and pay for it out of his own pocket. He was refused. It was not about the money, the Texas spokeswoman said, it was the concept they are moving away from.

In his interview with NPR, Price explains that it is his Christian faith that motivates him to do this for the prisoners. I think Price has it exactly right. There is something deeply Christian about placing feasts before the undeserving.

You can’t read the Gospel of Luke and not notice all the feasting and the attention paid to the details of hospitality. The Rich Man is condemned for not inviting poor Lazarus into his feasts. Both Jesus and the sinful woman of Luke 7 are refused hospitality. The elder brother refuses to break bread with the father and his prodigal sibling. After his disciples kvetch at feeding the 5,000 far from home, Jesus multiplies loaves and fishes. And, of course, recall that Judas was at the Last Supper. In the end, Jesus offers himself as a meal of which billions will partake. Is there any other religion that has offering food to the guilty anywhere else near its center?

It’s the testimony of Price that the state of Texas never really did much for the last meal anyway. If the prisoner asked for lobster, Price would find any kind of fish so he could to try to produce some kind of facsimile. The last meal was more show than substance, but now the show is gone due to the death of a concept.

Every death marks the limits of our dominion. Every death in the name of justice demonstrates our inability to make the crooked straight. It is the puzzle of perdition that generosity to the undeserving is often ineffective. Rather, gestures of generosity speak of the character of the giver instead of the recipient. What in the concept was objectionable to our new sensibilities? I wonder if we are a smaller, angrier, more petty, more vengeful society?

Price in his interview takes the “Christian nation, Christian state” tack. I’m not much for those arguments, but if this is the kind of Christianity Price wants to offer on behalf of the state, I’m right there with him. The Gospel is not a story about the good people getting rewarded. It is about a God who through relentless generosity becomes a meal for the undeserving. Apparently this is beyond the understanding not only of Lawrence Russell Brewer, but also of the state of Texas.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Bible, Faith, Theology, News & Politics, Social Trends, Justice, North America