In the comments on yesterday’s post, Lenore said “What was there about Jesus that inspired Matthew and friends to want to eat with him?” I searched for the phrase “with sinners.” Which took me to Luke 15.
It’s a chapter I’ve read often, with three parables I’ve taught about. But I never traced the food through them.
The story starts with tax collectors and sinners gathering around to hear Jesus and the Pharisees complaining that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. Jesus then tells three stories: about a man who loses a one sheep and leaves ninety-nine to find it, about a woman who loses one coin and searches everywhere to find it, and about a father who loses one son and waits expectantly til the son returns.
I’m not going to explore the stories now (but see about sheep, and the boy 1 and the boy 2.) Instead, I just realized that all three stories end with a party, with a celebration, and, at least for the last one, with food.
Jesus is talking about going out and finding things and people who have lost track of where they are, and welcoming them back. Not with scolding, not with demotion, not with shaming, but with a party.
It looks like Jesus is responding to the criticism about welcoming sinners by saying that he pursues them. And to the criticism about eating with them, he says he parties with them.
He doesn’t agree with them, mind you. But he doesn’t shun them. And whatever darkness the sheep finds itself in, the pain of isolation and separation we often experience, the man goes. And wherever the coin is, it is pursued. And when the son has gotten to the end of himself, he knows there is a table for servants. And is stunned to still be a son.
Who wouldn’t want to eat with that kind of storyteller?