The Power Of Shared Meals

For the last few articles, we’ve talked about the power of walking. Today I want us to turn our attention to the power of sharing a meal. But to understand how truly powerful Jesus’ approach was, we have to understand why it was considered so scandalous by the religious leaders of his day. The story is fascinating, unexpected, and little known, so hold on.

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In 334 B.C. Alexander the Great launched a series of military campaigns against the Persian Empire of Darius III. These wars eventually turned into a full-blown conquest, stretching from Greece all the way to India. 

 It had always been a dream of Alexander’s father, Phillip, King of Macedonto unite the people that lived around the Aegean Sea and create one superpower that shared the Greek language and culture. 

Pharisees

Over the course of 10 years, Phillip’s son Alexander not only conquered what is now called Greece and Turkey, and then Persia, but also conquered the countries of Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Gaza, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and extended his kingdom as far as Punjab India. 

Pharisees

In 323 B.C. Alexander fell ill and died, leaving his vast empire to be fought over by his generals, associates, and friends. 

Eventually, the map of these divided kingdoms – what Alexander left behind – looked like this: 

To the north of Israel – one of Alexander’s generals named Seleucus founded the Seleucid Empire. 

Another general named Ptolemy took control of Egypt and northern Africa. 

And what little country stood in between them? 

You guessed it.  

Israel. 

For the next 150 years, these two empires would exert control over Israel. Because if you controlled Israelyou controlled the vantage point to launch an attack on the other. 

Around 175 B.C., a Seleucid King from the north by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes launched a campaign to conquer Egypt and conquered Israel in the process. 

And that’s when the atrocities in Israel began. 

Antiochus Epiphanes sent his army to loot the temple and carry away its treasures. 

  • He made it illegal for anyone in Israel to practice their religion and were forced to leave their Jewish customs and sacrifice to the Greek gods (he believed if everyone became Greekthey would be much easier to control).  
  • Pagan altars were set up throughout the land. 
  • People were ordered to worship Zeus. 
  • A Greek gymnasium was built next to the temple where men wrestled naked (a shame for Jews, especially when it exposed their lack of circumcision). 
  • A pagan statue was erected in the Holy of Holies and pigs (considered unclean by Jews) were slaughtered there. 
  • Masses of Jews abandoned their religion and became pagan Greeks for fear of being killed. 
  • Jews were killed specifically because they refused to fight on the Sabbath.
  • When women were caught circumcising their children, they were murdered. Their babies’ throats were slit and then the children were hung around their mother’s necks as a warning to everyone else. 

Just like in the holocaust – it was all out ethnic cleansing. 

Daniel 11:31 called these acts“the abomination that causes desolation.” 

A BLOODY REVOLT 

But there WERE Jews who remained faithful to Yahweh and wouldn’t bow their knees. 

One of them was a man named Matthias – a priest – who lived with his five sons outside of Jerusalem. 

One day soldiers came to his village and asked Matthias to come forward in front of everyone and offer worship to a pagan idol (because they knew that if he gave in, everyone would follow his lead). 

Matthias refusedbut while he was giving a speech encouraging everyone to stay faithful to Yahwehsomeone from the village stepped forward and offered worship to the pagan idol

. 

When Matthias saw this, he grabbed a sword and killed the man on the spot. Then his five sons slaughtered the soldiers. 

This began what became known as “The Maccabean Revolt. 

Matthias’ son Judah led the insurgency and was given the nickname “Maccabee” (which meant Judah “the hammer). 

For the next seven yearsJudah Maccabee led raids, set traps, fought battles, and plundered the Seleucid forces. They did what American patriots, led by George Washington, did in the Revolutionary War against the British. 

The Maccabean forces eventually overthrew the Seleucidskilled all the collaboratorsand took their country back. They cleansed the land of the pagan influences, which had led God’s people astray. They destroyed the pagan shrines throughout the land, the gymnasium, and the pagan statue of Zeus in the temple.

When they rededicated the temple back to Yahweh, they lit a menorah which only had enough sacred oil to burn for one day, but miraculously lasted for eight days.  Jews during Jesus’ time celebrated this revolt and the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days by calling it “The Festival of Lights.”  

Today we know it by another name: Hannukah. 

ROLES REVERSED 

I go through all of this to make this point: 

The people who didn’t buckle to forced conversion by the Greeks during this time and stayed faithful to Yahweh we’re called the Hasidim – which in Hebrew meant the pious ones (pronounced ha – see – dem). 

We get our word “Hasidic” – for Hasidic Jews – from this word. 

The Hasidim – the pious ones – were the Jews who faithfully defended to the death: 

  • Kosher food laws 
  • Circumcision 
  • Observance of the Sabbath
  • And separating themselves from irreligious people by forming distinctly Jewish villages, and avoiding contact with them at all times, especially during meals

They were the HEROES who lived 175 years before Jesus and were willing to die rather than lose their entire way of life. 

Eventually, the greatgrandkids of these great heroes – a century later – became the very people that wanted to kill Jesus. 

Because Jesus – just like the Greeks – challenged their observance of… 

  • Kosher food laws 
  • Circumcision
  • Observance of the Sabbath
  • And separating themselves from irreligious people by forming distinctly Jewish villages, and avoiding contact with them at all times, especially during meals

The Hasidim – the heroes – the maintainers of faithful Jewish practice are known in the Bible by another name: the Pharisees. 

In the next few articles, I want to talk about the power of dinner meals, especially sharing dinner meals with “sinners,” all things which God modeled in the remaining 5% of the Gospels (once you remove Jesus’ miracles and teachings). 

But before I go there, I wanted us to have a clear picture of three things.

In Jesus’ day:

  1. The Pharisees were the good guys.
  2. Jesus was the bad guy.
  3. And the Pharisees quickly realized that just like the Seleucids, Jesus was a threat that had to be eliminated, largely in part because of who he ate with.