The Messiah for Pariahs: God Eats With His Enemies

Jesus eats with sinnersWe have lost the cultural value of a long meal with friends. Since most Americans eat multiple meals alone in the car each week it is naturally hard for us to understand and appreciate what eating with another person has meant both in our own history and in the history of first century Israel. A meal represented acceptance and friendship. It is the reason Jesus’ meals with sinners were so often controversial. But Jesus eats with them both because he loves them and because they reflect a greater truth. Jesus’ many meals with sinners reflects God’s heart for the spiritual outcast.

Jesus’ meals were highly controversial. The religious leaders of Israel criticized John the Baptist for his fasting, but they rebuked Jesus for his feasting. Luke records:

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:33-34)

That’s who Jesus was, a friend of sinners. He demonstrated this by his dining habits. He eats with tax collectors and sinners. When he encounters Zacchaeus he invites himself over to a big party with all of Zacchaeus’ closest friends (Luke 19:1-10). Again, the crowds are disgusted, saying, ““He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (19:7).  Another time a prostitute crashes the meal and Jesus welcomes her (Luke 7:36-50). This was Jesus’ manner at the table, he welcomed all to come and eat with him. All could be accepted, all could be his friends. In fact the testimony of the Bible is specifically that Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).

Meals are significant because you are in close quarters with someone. Your hands are reaching into the same dishes. It is a clear act of welcoming, accepting, and befriending. It was the precise thing that you did not do with the social pariahs. It was the precise thing that the social outcast wanted: community. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis note:

The best thing we can do for the poor is offer them a place of welcome and community. Our first priority in social involvement is to be the church, a community of welcome to, and inclusion of, the marginalized. This needs to go deeper than a warm handshake at the door. People are often unaware of how much the culture of their church is shaped by their social class. Someone at the door of a church, for example, may hand a newcomer a hymnbook, Bible, service guide, and bulletin with a smile and greeting without realizing how intimidating these can be to someone from a nonliterate culture. The social activities to which the poor are invited, the decision-making processes of the church, the unwritten dress codes, the style of teaching can all be alien to the marginalized. As a result, however warm the welcome, the poor can feel marginalized within the church just as they are outside. (Total Church, 81-82)

Genuine community and friendship are what the marginalized most need. It is what Jesus offered. Community is what Jesus provided when he ate with sinners. It was an opportunity for him to say to them, you can be welcomed and loved by someone. The pariah is not a pariah in Jesus’ circle, he is a friend.

God eats with sinners. That is the overall testimony of the Scriptures. What is true of Jesus’ earthly meals with social outcasts is true of the spiritual meal he will share with his church. “You who were once far off have been brought near,” the Apostle Paul says (Ephesians 2:13), and you have been brought near to recline at the table of the Lord in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 8:11). God welcomes sinners and Jesus’ earthly dinning habits reveal this greater spiritual truth. He welcomes us to his table to eat the bread of life. Jesus tells the parable of a rich man throwing a great feast, and it serves as a description of those whom God will welcome into his kingdom. Jesus tells the story:

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-24)

Who will come to the great feast of the Lord? He tells us it will be the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. It’s thsoe who live in along the highways and the hedges, outside the city itself. These are the ones God calls to his meals. God eats with social outcasts, because he also eats with spiritual outcasts. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, ““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Jesus came to eat with sinners, not the righteous. It is sinners who will eat in His Kingdom.

Jesus is a Messiah for Pariahs. He cares for the physically, mentally, and socially marginalized because that reflects the spiritual state of all of us. God eats with his enemies. Such a reminder should restore some sense of the cultural value of the meal to us. God welcomes us to his table, prepare for a gorgeous, fulfilling, and enduring meal. Prepare for acceptance and friendship with the King of the feast.

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