‘as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus…When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”’ (Mark 2:15-16 NRSV)
Food plays an important role in our human interactions. In fact it would be very hard to organise our lives without food on special occasions: The 5 year-old’s birthday party, our first date, a wedding anniversary, are all occasions where food is often involved.
I suppose we could get by without food at those events, but life would be rather dull; food seems to bring a depth and colour to these experiences.
It’s not only in our day and age that food adds to an occasion or enhances the time we spend with other people; in the Jewish society of Jesus’ day table fellowship was a significant cultural issue. An issue that went way beyond just getting together to have a good time.
According to Geza Vermes, table fellowship was an important marker of relationship in first century Jewish society. It was a marker of unity and oneness and had eschatological symbolism of the anticipated banquet in the kingdom of God at the end of the age. For many this symbolism meant the exclusion of non-compliant people from table fellowship.
So when the Pharisees were angry with Jesus for eating with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ it wasn’t simply mere snobbery on their part; they knew what he was doing was a prophetic act that directly challenged their view of the coming kingdom.
In their theological framework Roman collaborators and prostitutes didn’t figure in the end time kingdom of God, would not be present at the messianic banquet, and so were excluded from table fellowship now.
Jesus, by sitting and eating with these people, was presenting an entirely different picture of the future kingdom; an inclusive picture where all kinds of people would be welcome.
Jesus’ message is the same today:
‘Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’ (Revelation 3:20)
Jesus makes this call very personal to each one of us; to every individual whether we be a self-righteous Pharisee, a cheat and an extortioner, or a sexually immoral person, the call from Jesus is the same: ‘come dine with me.’
The question is how will we respond? An eternity with Jesus is set before us (cf.v.21). He is knocking at our door. Can we hear him? (cf.v.22)
If so, why not open it and let him in? You won’t regret it.
Father, give us the ears to hear Jesus’ knocking, the desire to open the door of our hearts and the hunger to want to dine with him, now and forever.
Have a good week dining with Jesus.