I once came across a quote and honestly I don’t remember who said it originally—I think I read it in a book and the author was quoting someone else—but the words themselves have stuck with me.
“Jesus was killed because of who he ate with.”
Now I realize that these words could be carried too far and in totality it’s not completely true; they definitely took issue with his declaration to be the Son of God and his teaching of the Father and forgiveness! But like most great quotes there is some truth to its inflammatory words. The Pharisees certainly despised Jesus, in part, because of the company he kept, the people he associated with and those he shared meals with.
Certainly the shared meal carried far more significance in Jesus’ day and culture. Sitting down around the table communicated things about those you ate with and your intention to be in relationship with them. It wasn’t just the casual affair—or the quick practice of necessity—that it often is today. It was more; much, much more. And we can see it everywhere in the Gospels. Perhaps nowhere more clearly than at Matthew’s house.
Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” Luke 5:29-32
The problem for the Pharisees was one of a very classic nature. And by classic, I mean it’s the norm of human society. Rankings and classifications, and separating the “better thans” from the “not as good” is typical human behavior. Typical, sinful, human behavior. We all do it. In every society, in every culture, in every segment of history we find the religious elitists segregating themselves from the “wicked”; we find the rich congregating in places not welcome to the poor. We find people of this background pushing away from people of that background. Blue collar/white collar; liberal/conservative; inner city/suburban. The list goes on and on and on. We like to label people and then sort them out so that we don’t feel too much need to associate with those who are different than us—“less” than us.
Why do you eat and drink with such scum?
Political correctness and “progress” have taught most of us not to say it quite so judgmentally, at least not out loud. But this reality is still alive and well. The world seeks to push away—and then ignore—the marginalized of society. But when Jesus comes, he goes right at people from every group, category, segment and label of society. He’s not looking for a certain kind of person, except to say that he is looking to those who know they are sinners who need to repent. I often wonder, if it is the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy, why is it that we as followers of Christ so often display such a pack mentality with regard to the healthy? We like the healthy, they are easy. They are not so much trouble. They look and feel and think more like us. So we run with them, share with them, befriend them, and leave the marginalized where we find them—on the sidelines of life and out of our way.
Jesus never worried about public perception, but instead looked to those who were willing to acknowledge their need of him, those who were ready to repent; and he embraced them. Blue collar fishermen, white collar tax collectors; Pharisees and the irreligious; the faithful and genuine and the unfaithful pretenders; he loved them all. He shared meals—and I would imagine laughs—with all of them. He taught, called, challenged and accepted no excuse from each and every one of them. And we are now called to the same. It seems we would love people far more like Jesus if we could start shedding labels and instead just see people.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:16