Scripture: Matthew 9:9-17, Mark 2:13-22, Luke 5:27-39
Our scripture today takes place in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. By its presence in all of these gospels, it is clear that this story is important to each gospel in presenting an aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry.
In each of our scriptures, Jesus invites a tax collector to follow him, and sits down to eat with other tax collectors and others who are labeled sinners. In Jewish culture of the time, eating a meal with someone was a deeply intimate form of personal contact. Who you sat at the table with said a lot about your social status and importance. Religious leaders and important figures in the community would be very careful about who they sat and associated with during meals.
Therefore, the reaction of the Pharisees and teachers to Jesus’ dinner company is unsurprisingly negative. Jesus’ actions were socially radical to an extreme.
But Jesus is about flipping the social script of the world. He didn’t come to impress the important, powerful people, but to deliver a message that deliberately broke down the very thing that gives those people power and importance. In Jesus’ response to their criticism, we see a core principle of his ministry: he came to bring his message and presence to those who are looking for grace, not those who think they have it all figured out. Because it is the rejected, the outcasts, and those labeled “sinners” who know better than anyone else the lie of prestige and power when valuing a life.
As we see Jesus’ radical message play out in his ministry, we must also reflect on the ways in which the message of Jesus will call us to radical action by today’s standards. It can be hard to break social norms. Peer pressure is a powerful force in the world, it holds many in bondage from doing what is right, including Christians. As we reflect on the message of Jesus to reach out to the rejected, it is important that we ask the hard question on what that really looks like in the context of our lives and acknowledge the fear that can come from that.
After all, the actions of Jesus even confused the followers of John the Baptist. The coming and presence of Jesus was a new and powerful moment in the relationship with God and humanity. He didn’t come to just be with, but also to transform the life of those he encounters. As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus did this through humbling himself in coming to earth and living a life of sacrifice for others. He turns fasting to feasting and sickness to health. For those who humble themselves as Jesus did, and reject worldly pursuits to seek the ways of Jesus, he is intimately available and actively transforming.
We followers of Jesus take on this mantle. Having been shown such great love and acceptance we are called to be examples of that in the world. We are called to engage with the rejected of this world not as people who look down from our higher status, but by humbling ourselves and putting their needs and lives above our own.
Like the dinner table in Jesus day, what are some socially important places in today’s world?
How have you recently stepped out to value someone in those places that might have raised some eyebrows?
What ways have you struggled with your faith?
What has the sacrifice and transformation of Jesus meant in your life?
What are some ways you can engage your experience with faith and Jesus to act as a servant to others?
- This is a story we see across the Synoptic Gospels. Each gospel has varying details to match the different accounts of Jesus’ ministry and life. Those aside, it is clearly a point that the various gospels wanted to make sure was presented to their intended audience.
- As we look at this story, we will focus on the main story arc shared by the three gospels:
- In each story, we see Jesus extends an invitation to come follow him to – and accepted by – a tax collector.
- We see Jesus eating with a collection of tax collectors and those labeled sinners.
- The last part we see Jesus being questioned on why his disciples as opposed to others are not observing religious fasting rituals.
The Context and Criticism
- In this scripture we encounter Jesus’ first criticism.
- Those who collected taxes for the Roman empire were seen as traitors to the Jewish people, as well as ceremonially unclean.
- The invitation of someone seen as unclean would be a radical difference between the common religious practice of the time and Jesus’ ministry.
- In Jewish culture at the time, eating a meal with someone was held as a deep, intimate form of personal contact. Jewish people seeking to act with the highest religious integrity were very careful on who they would share meals with.
- For Jesus to share a meal with those labeled sinners would also be highly controversial and different from the traditional practices of the day.
Jesus’ Response to Criticism
- When questioned about his actions, Jesus’ response is clear. He justifies this personal and intimate relationship as being a part of his core mission and message, that he has been sent to heal the sick and rejected.
- In all three accounts when talking about Jesus being at the table the Greek word katakeimai is used. This is best translated as “reclining at the table” rather than “sat.” Jesus was not just with them, but casually and social engaged with them. We see Jesus inviting those rejected in the world to be a part of the community of God. He does this through a deep, intimate, and personal way.
- As we see Jesus’ radical message play out in his ministry we must also reflect on the ways in which the message of Jesus will call us to radical action by today’s standards.
- It can be hard to break social norms. Peer pressure is a powerful force in the world that holds many in bondage from doing what is right, including Christians.
- As we reflect on the message of Jesus to reach out to the rejected and lost it is important that we ask the hard question on what that really looks like in the context of our lives and acknowledge the fear that can come from that.
- Our call is not to cower in fear of the social consequences of our action but to follow the example of Jesus in boldly stepping out in love. As the future writers of scripture would so clearly tell us we are no longer slaves to fear but people of power, self control, and love (2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:18).