Meals with Jesus
Dinner with Matthew
This is the first reflection in a series that we are calling "Meals with Jesus". Gospel narratives are often framed around meal settings. Each meal portends significant lessons, yet also become scandalous in the eyes of Jesus' critics. Jesus turns each 'eating controversy' into a teaching opportunity as well as a fellowship unique for its open welcome.
The gospel passages above, all record the calling of Matthew and the subsequent meal in Matthew's house which Jesus attended along with publicans and sinners who were friends of Matthew.
"Matthew", also called Levi, an apostle, was by occupation a tax collector. Palestine at this time was divided up. Judaea was a Roman province under a Roman procurator; Galilee was ruled by Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great and the territory to the east was ruled by Philip, another of Herod's sons.
On the way from Philip's territory to Herod's domains, Capernaum was the first town to which the traveller came. It was by its very nature a frontier town; because of that it was a customs' centre. In those days there were import and export taxes and Capernaum must have been the place where they were collected. That is where Matthew worked. Tax collectors (known as publicans) were despised by the Jews and regarded as the lowest of sinners. They were perceived as extortionists and even as traitors since they served Rome.
Jesus was, probably, already acquainted with Matthew. At any rate, Matthew did not question when Jesus told him to follow him. He just obeyed. This call was even harder than most, because Matthew had to give up the opportunity to make even more money than he already had. He would lose his position of authority, as well.
What is the significance of Jesus eating with sinners?
In Jesus' day, rabbis and other spiritual leaders were the highest members of Jewish society. Everyone looked up to the Pharisees. They were strict adherents to the Law and tradition, and they avoided those whom they deemed "sinners" because they had a "clean" image to maintain. Tax collectors, infamous for embezzlement and their cooperation with the hated Romans, definitely fell into the "sinner" category.
The fact that Jesus saw individuals, not just their labels, no doubt inspired them to know Him better. They recognised Jesus as a righteous man, a man of God-the miracles He performed bore witness to that-and they saw His compassion and sincerity.
Jesus didn't let social status or cultural norms dictate His relationships with people. As the Good Shepherd, He sought the lost sheep wherever they had strayed. When Matthew hosted the dinner party, Jesus gladly accepted the invitation. It was a wonderful opportunity to share the good news of the kingdom with those who most needed to hear. Yes, He would be criticised for His actions, but what prophet ever lived without criticism?
Jesus transcended cultural norms and was not above spending time with the outcasts of society. He spoke truth to sinners and loved them; He offered them hope, based on their repentance and faith in Himself.
Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus didn't require people to change before coming to Him. He sought them out, met them where they were, and extended grace to them in their circumstances. Change would come to those who accepted Christ, but it would be from the inside out. Jesus knew better than anyone that the kindness of God leads sinners to repentance.
Jesus showed us that we shouldn't let cultural norms dictate whom we evangelise. The sick need a physician. Lost sheep need a shepherd.
Are we praying the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into the field ?
Are we willing to go ourselves?
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