After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:27-32
The Pharisees were not happy here with the guest list. Tax collectors were social outcasts who commonly used their position to cheat others but not only that they were collaborators working for the enemy. They were working for the Romans which made them traitors to the nation and to this God’s enemies and yet here they were partying with God’s Messiah. Table fellowship, eating at the same table as another had become a rich symbol within the culture for friendship, intimacy and unity. Here Jesus was aligning Himself with, in society’s eyes, the enemy. A meal, however, could open the way to reconciliation.
Also, their own rituals around food had made the reality of shared meals with others outside their religion impossible. Jewish food laws not only symbolised the cultural boundaries they created them. Isaiah 25:6 promises a great banquet that includes all people, all nations, all faces and all the earth but in the years before Jesus, the Gentiles had dropped off the guestlist for the coming banquet. Pharisaism was a lay movement that sought to extend its purity laws into the home. They exhorted all Jews to observe voluntarily the purity code that the Torah required only of priests and to do so all year round. The Pharisees regarded their dining tables at home as surrogates for the Lord’s altar in the Temple in Jerusalem so their eating companions had to uphold this ritualistic purity which was only meant for the temple. Luke describes Jesus’ companions as tax collectors and others (v29) the Pharisees describe them as tax collectors and sinners. (v30) The message is clear these ‘others’ don’t measure up to the standards of purity expected by the Pharisees. A central question in Judaism of Jesus day was, with whom can I eat? With holiness and future expectations bound up in this question, doing lunch was doing theology. Jesus here, eating with Matthew and the ‘others’ renders the question irrelevant.
In verse 33-35 following, the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples do not fast and in Luke 5:36-39, Jesus declares something new is happening. Grace cannot be integrated with self-righteousness and self-importance. It is radically different, radically new. The parties of Jesus are celebrations. The Pharisees are mourning over the absence of God and His Kingdom but in Jesus God has come to His people and His Kingdom is dawning so fasting gives way to feasting, religion gives way to grace, grumbling to rejoicing, welcoming and inclusion gives way to exclusion. Levi when He came to know Jesus threw a party? Those who avoid the ‘contamination’ of sinners are like the Pharisees, those who earn the label ‘friend of sinners’ are like Jesus. How would you describe yourself? Robert Karris says, “In Luke’s gospel Jesus got Himself killed because of the way He ate.” Who are you eating with? Who do you celebrate the Coming of God’s Kingdom with?
PRAYER: Lord God please show me where I can be feasting with those who are less fortunate, who are lost, who have made a mess of their lives or who are like I once was, in need of a Saviour. AMEN.
SONG: Make My Life a Prayer to You by Keith Green – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOfhr_AiZNk