Saint Patrick and Party Theology


Saint Patrick’s Day. For children, it’s leprechauns and rainbows. For adults, it’s an excuse to indulge in a thick Reuben and a stout. For others, a few stouts too many.

Saint Patrick’s Day could be a reminder for Christians to just enjoy people.

Just because they’re people.

Saint Patrick is famous for evangelizing pagan Ireland in the fifth century. What’s not as known is that he had a brew master on his missionary team. Mescan, was Saint Patrick’s personal brewmaster. According to Stephan Mansfield, “It seemed that Patrick understood godly hospitality and captured many Irish tribal chiefftans with his tasty beer before he won the man for God” (God and Guiness, page 21).

I suspect that the Patrick employing a brew master was an indication that he liked people and just wasn’t interested in converting their souls. Patrick ate and drank with the pagan kings and entertained their courts.

Here’s the thing about a good party. You can’t rush it. People relax, let their hair down, talk, dance, and laugh. A party is not the place for people with an agenda. There’s nothing efficient about a party. It’s a place where smiles and stories are swapped. If Patrick were simply interested in getting notches in his evangelistic belt, throwing parties about a bad method as I can imagine. It’s slow, sloppy, and bad behavior tends to break out.

There’s precious little reliable information about their about Patrick. But I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that his motives weren’t much different from those of his Savior.

One of the most fascinating features of the Gospels is that none of the four writers explain how Jesus managed to attract the sinner class (yes, that was social designation invented by the religious lawyers) and transform them into his followers. There’s no record of Jesus proselytizing at parties or making a general nuisance of himself. In fact, he fit in to the point that the religious lawyers accused him of being a drunk and a glutton.

Jesus seemed to be getting about the business of enjoying people. And why not, they– as imperfect as they were– were made in his image.

This simple act was scandalous. In the Ancient Near East, social meals was a very symbolic ritual. When you enjoyed a meal with someone it was literally an act of making a treaty with that person. Kings called it a Salt Treaty, since the access to the mineral could be scarce. The religious lawyers stipulated that good Jews could not eat with Gentiles or sinners because the act of dining was an act of endorsing these outsiders and committing yourself to their well being. Jesus then was making a statement with his dining partners: God is for the outcast and the marginalized.

Eugene Peterson pointed out that the religious lawyers demanded that a person convert to Judiasm and renounce their sin before they would dine with them. “Clean up and we can enjoy you.”

Jesus, on the other hand, said, “Let me enjoy you.” And those who did found themselves wanting to let him clean them morally.

So this isn’t a post about drinking or not drinking but being willing to enjoy people just because they are people. Be a Christian as you do it, but don’t degrade your friends into potential notches on your belt.

If a little St. Patty’s day magic happens then so be it.


  • Stephanie Nikolopoulos

    I like the message of this piece, Larry! I hadn’t known that about St. Patrick, and I think we’d all be better off if we enjoyed people’s company more.

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  • dfreeman

    Well done my friend. Way too many people today are uptight about life being lived to the fullest. They get themselves into a corner, no longer have fun and become judgmental toward those who know how to relax and let life happen. You get the point…

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      I’m getting it the older I get.