Polite Conversation

I hope that you all had a nice Thanksgiving. For me, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time with my family. I am incredibly thankful for them and couldn’t see myself anywhere else than with them, eating good food and having good conversation. But I know that isn’t the case for everyone. Some do not have family, and others do not have family that they want to be around. For the latter, table conversation and small talk can be an uncomfortable exercise in walking on eggshells. Maybe some conversations need to be had, but social expectations prohibit it because “that’s not what we would call ‘polite conversation.’”

Perhaps some of your Thanksgiving dinners started with a whispered “Please don’t bring up…” talk in the hallway before sitting at the table. Sometimes our social cues are inculcated through subtle hints and clues. Other times, like the one hypothesized above, they are laid out for us in clear detail. Take, for instance, the words of the famous philosopher and orator Cicero in the 1st century BC. In two separate trials he worked on that involved crucifixion, he commented on polite conversation for a Roman citizen. “To put a Roman citizen in chains is a wrong. To flog him is a crime. To execute him is almost parricide. And what shall I call crucifixion? So guilty an action cannot by any possibility be adequately expressed by any name bad enough for it” (Against Verres). He also said, “… the executioner, the veiling of heads, and the very word ‘cross,’ let them all be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears” (Pro Rabirio Postumo). In the Roman Republic, the word “cross” was akin to a filthy curse word. You do not mention it in mixed company. You barely mention it when you must.

This makes Jesus’ “table talk” in Mark 8:27-35 socially horrifying. At this point in His ministry, Jesus had been intentionally pivoting from esoteric prophet and healer to pariah. Now He began talking about His death with uncomfortable candor. So much so, that Peter felt compelled to take Him aside and get Him to tone it down. I don’t know if you’ve ever known someone that, when you tell them they’ve embarrassed you in public, do it more. I’m not saying that Jesus was being obnoxious, but He was being deliberate. After Peter’s hushed rebuke on the side, Jesus called everyone to Him, turned into the skid, and said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34b). This would have been enough to make the entire crowd flinch at just the mention of the word, let alone its implication. I blush thinking about how Peter must have felt. It’s a wonder that anyone still walked with Him after this social breach. And yet, that’s the only thing we can do to survive!

What’s your view of Jesus and His cross? (1 Cor. 1:18-25)