Jesus and Food – Matthew’s Hungry Outcasts

Jesus and Food – Matthew’s Hungry Outcasts

Jesus and Food – Matthew’s Hungry Outcasts.

“Later, Levi (Matthew) invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.” (Mark 2:15).

Please read the story about Jesus and the sinners in Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:13-17, and Luke 5:27-32.

Jesus is really enjoying Himself. He is the guest of honor at a banquet hosted by His newest disciple, Matthew the tax collector. Because he made a lucrative career out of collaborating with the hated Romans, to the extent of extorting money from his own people, Matthew is an outcast in Jewish society. He was considered by the religious establishment to be unclean, a public sinner, and was not even allowed to worship in the local synagogues. It makes sense then that the only friends Matthew had were other outcasts, other sinners as judged by the Temple authorities. Add to that the fact that there were many public sinners who followed Jesus from place to place, and there was sure enough quite the unsavory group at Matthew’s house.

Jesus was happy to be known as the “friend of sinners.” He loved eating with the riffraff, to be at table with them. He thought that sharing a meal was a sacred time of fellowship. It was a way to unite with people, to identify with them, to enjoy social interaction and deepen friendships. It was a natural part of Jesus’ personality that He broke bread with those on the margins and made them the center of His attention. After all, He knew what it felt like to be judged and rejected. Jesus found that the outcasts didn’t have any pretensions, they didn’t pretend to be holy or respectable. He found their authentic honesty to be refreshing. They thought that since they were already being judged for their actions, why bother hiding anything? They were used to living with the reality of their bad reputations, so why pretend otherwise? Jesus accepted them and went out of His way to build a sense of trust with the outcasts. He made it a practice to eat with anyone who invited Him to the table, Pharisee or sinner. But His everyday companions tended to be those who were the blessed forgotten.

In the middle of Matthew’s banquet, a Pharisee came to the door in a huff, expressing his disgust with Jesus. He told Jesus that He was defiling Himself by eating with these reprobates. The Pharisee then confronted the disciples, asking them how they could let their celebrated rabbi associate with such sinful characters. Like all Pharisees, this man was making a blanket judgment. The Pharisees called people sinners for any number of offenses, ranging from public sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes, to those Jews who didn’t ritually wash their hands before eating. Sinners could be those who didn’t tithe properly, or loved to eat on fasting days. Sinners could be those who didn’t pay Temple tax. In the Pharisees’ mind, sinners could be anything from notorious criminals to impious Jews who don’t worship in the Temple or attend synagogue regularly. Matthew’s group at the table were a wide range of sinners, and the Pharisee rejected the whole lot of them.

Finally, Jesus had enough of this self-righteous Pharisee. “Listen, now,” He said to the accusing Pharisee. “You shouldn’t be surprised at my presence with these people. I have come to reach out to the lost, and gather them in. My mission is to offer myself to those who realize they need me. Why reach out to  people like you, who think they are sufficiently righteous and don’t need my grace. You think you are well, and don’t need a doctor. My friends here know they need grace to restore their lives. Now here’s what I want you to remember from the prophet Hosea… ‘I would rather have you show mercy than offer sacrifices.’ Get off your religious pedestal and show some mercy to people who are obviously in need.”

The Pharisee didn’t like Jesus’ response, and left Matthew’s house full of indignation. And Jesus returned to the table to visit with His friends. And they talked the night away.