Social outcasts still have friends. The rest of the social outcasts. There are always more outsiders than insiders. There are always people at the margins, going about their business, expecting to not be noticed. At least not positively.
When a social outcast is seen, valued, embraced, they–we–want to share the news with friends. “This is the person who notices people like us,” is how the introduction happens.
Matthew was a tax collector, a social outcast. It wasn’t that he was poor. It wasn’t that he was unattractive. It was that he worked with the Roman government. He was a religious/political traitor.
Jesus stopped by his tax table one day and said, “Follow me.” It was a culturally inappropriate invitation, one that demeaned the inviter rather than elevating the invited.
How do we know? Because a meal followed. Matthew introduced Jesus to his fellow tax collectors and sinners. And the religious leaders asked, “Why does he eat with them?”
It’s not surprising that tax collectors missed the religious services. It’s emotionally challenging to show up where everyone stares at you. Particularly if you have questions about God and people say, “I bet you do.”
When Matthew invited Jesus to dinner, and then invited all his friends, I’m guessing that Matthew knew they would come. They would have questions. They would love to talk with a rabbi who was willing to talk with them. They had been looking forward to the opportunity.
A meal with Jesus and friends would feel like the opposite of church for some of my friends. It would be heaven. No rituals, no defensiveness. Just honest conversation with someone committed to healing the hole in your heart that you always had to keep hidden.
Wouldn’t that be an amazing dinner? But it could never happen. Or could it?