Jesus’ Call To Share Meals With Sinners

These Art of Living articles are meant to be thoughtful examinations about how we can, practically speaking, live more like Jesus, instead of just believing like Jesus.

My premise is that Jesus didn’t only come to teach us the best way to think, but the best way to live.

Based on this premise, here’s what I really hate about Jesus: he spent much of his life eating meals with people.

I mean, I don’t hate that Jesus ate meals with people.

That’s cool if he wanted to do that.

And I don’t care that he ate so much with people that he gained the reputation of being a glutton (Matthew 11:19). I like food (a bit too much, in fact), so that doesn’t bother me.

What I hate is what this means for me.

The last thing I want to do is have strangers over to my house. Forget strangers: I don’t want to have ANYONE over to my house.

As the pastor of a large church, so much of my life is lived in a fishbowl, and I covet having a small protected place just for my family and me. Our home is a shelter of sorts, and I really enjoy that.

Plus, I’m an introvert, and at the end of a long day when I’ve already been up working since 4 a.m., I don’t have the energy left at 7:30 p.m. to be present for people like I’d like to. Why can’t it be “a thing” that people come over for breakfast? I’m raring to go at 6 a.m.!

My wife, Lisa, is the complete opposite of me. She loves having people over to our house and would do so 3-4 times a week if it didn’t send me to an early grave. She’s an extrovert with the gift of hospitality.

While I’m at it, I might as well be completely candid and tell you I don’t much enjoy going to other people’s homes either. I hate putting them out for an evening by causing them to prepare a meal and then having to clean up afterward. I don’t want to cause anyone to go out of their way just for me.

Here’s what I enjoy: lunch, at a neutral site, with a clear start and end time.

That way, either party can bolt if needed.

Nobody has to fix the meal or clean up.

It’s quick and efficient.

Exactly what Jesus doesn’t want for our relationships.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING MEALS

Jesus modeled leisurely spending an entire evening to share a meal with someone.

That’s because Jesus believed something more than the consumption of food takes place when a disciple shares a meal with someone: he shows up at that meal.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three gather together in my name, there am I with them.”

For some reason, Christians interpret that to mean that during church services, Jesus makes an appearance because at least two believers have gathered.

That’s not at all what that means.

Matthew 18 is about conflict resolution between two disciples and how, when one does something so heinous to another, that sometimes the church’s leaders need to step in and kick the offending person out of the church.

Jesus said when that happens, count on the fact that he was present during that whole process.

Why this matters, for our discussion, is Jesus is saying that when we do anything he’s asked us to do, he’s standing with us in the room.

No place does that occur more than when one of his disciples eats with someone.

MEALS IN THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

To understand how serious Jesus is about the importance of eating together, look at the Gospel of Luke.

  • In Luke 5:27-32, Jesus asks Levi to follow him and then goes to his house to eat a meal with his friends who were “sinners” (non-religious Jews who didn’t observe certain strict religious practices).
  • Right afterward, in Luke 5:33, John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus’ disciples why he eats so much with people and doesn’t fast. (The short answer: there will be time for that later. Right now, there are meals to be had.)
  • In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus shared a meal with a Pharisee.
  • In Luke 9:10-17, Jesus hosted a dinner for 5000+ people.
  • In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus ate at Martha and Mary’s house.
  • In Luke 11:37-52, Jesus ate another meal with a Pharisee.
  • In Luke 14:1-14, Jesus ate ANOTHER meal at a Pharisee’s house.
  • In Luke 15:1-2, Pharisees freak out that Jesus ate with “sinners” (people like Levi’s friends).
  • In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus invited himself over to another “sinner’s” house, Zacchaeus.
  • In Luke 22:7-23, Jesus ate one last meal with his disciples.
  • Finally, in Luke 24:13-34, Jesus’ disciples, not surprisingly, recognized Jesus after the resurrection because “he broke bread with them.”

Think about that.

Jesus’ disciples only recognized the resurrected Jesus AFTER he began doing what he did most of his ministry: ate a meal with them.

As Robert Karris says, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal.”

WHAT HAPPENS DURING A MEAL?

Besides Jesus showing up in the room, two other important things happen during meals.

Acceptance

Going to all the trouble to make an invitation, buy food, prepare the meal, spend time together, and clean up afterward is something that costs the host a lot. When this occurs, an implicit message is sent: I value you. You matter.

This is precisely why the Hasidim (Pharisees) were infuriated when Jesus ate with “sinners.” They felt Jesus was communicating that he approved of the lifestyle of the same kinds of people who, like those who bowed their knees to Seleucid occupiers, grew lax in their religious observance. (Read my previous article The Power Of Shared Meals for context on why this matters).

Intimacy

Dinner meals are meant to be slow. The conversation naturally flows. Bits and pieces of a person’s heart are revealed in a way that can’t happen in most everyday life.

When we eat with another person, labels and wealth and other things that typically separate people fall away. During a meal, you’re no longer Sally, the gal who bags groceries and is working her way through night school, and Rachel, the CEO of a pharmaceutical company.

You’re just Sally and Rachel, two people eating a salad across the table from one another while laughing at each other’s jokes and opening up about why things are tough for you right now.

On no other planet would this type of conversation have happened if it weren’t for one disciple inviting someone over for a meal.

And this is why I hate Jesus’ example so much.

Above I shared my reasons why I can’t do what Jesus did.

In return, I believe Jesus has a straightforward response for me: I don’t care.

If we don’t eat so often with people, especially “sinners,” that we gain the reputation of being a glutton, like Jesus, then how can we call ourselves his disciples?

More on that next time.