Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” Matthew 9:10-13
Jesus is not addressing an issue of social etiquette. He isn’t even encouraging sympathy for the lonely. He makes a political statement at a table during an ordinary daily routine.
However, for the Pharisees, nothing about this scene is ordinary. Middle Eastern culture emphasized hospitality. In fact, God specifically instructed the Israelites to feed the foreigner and stranger. But this rebel rouser initiated this moment. He has the audacity to not only invite an unorthodox cast of characters to follow him but publicly displays sharing a meal with more of them.
Sharing a meal has sacred implications. It points to our common need to be nurtured in body and soul. And offers us the opportunity to taste the “Bread” that provides both. It can become a catalyst of reconciliation when we come to the table estranged. From God and each other.
Jesus’ feast speaks volumes. The Kingdom of God has arrived. Look. Ponder. Embrace. It does not thrive on oppression but liberates. And when you taste of it, you want to invite everyone else. Every One. To savor this life “on earth as it is in heaven”
N.T. Wright, in his book, “The Lord and his Prayer, writes “After all, we are ourselves only at Jesus’ table because he made a habit of celebrating parties with all the wrong people. Isn’t it about time we start to copy him?”
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