And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:15-16, ESV)
One of my favorite ways of socializing is over food. It can be something as simple as a fast-food lunch or more upscale dining for special occasions. Entertaining at home can mean snacks on the counter, a complete meal, or just hot tea or coffee and dessert. The main thing is enjoying the time together with others, usually good friends. Food, fellowship, and friends make a good combination.
Numerous times in the Gospels we read of Jesus sharing a meal with others. In fact, His first miracle happened at a wedding feast in Cana. He enjoyed meals and time to relax in the home of His friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. But there were other times when Jesus shared a meal that drew sharp criticism. Jesus went against the taboos of His day by eating with tax collectors and sinners. In one instance, He even allowed a woman of questionable character to wash and anoint His feet while He dined (Luke 7: 36-50). That did not go over well with His host who thought to himself, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39, ESV).
Jesus did know who she was, but it didn’t matter. Where others saw an unworthy, sinful woman, Jesus saw a soul that needed His mercy. He saw a heart that longed for more than the life she now lived. When criticized for His actions, Jesus responded with a parable of two debtors, one with a large debt and the other with a much smaller debt. Both debts were forgiven. Jesus questioned His host, “Now which of them will love him more?” The man responded, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
That was the correct answer, but the Pharisee needed to apply it to what was happening at his own table that very moment. Indicating the woman, Jesus said, Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47, ESV).
Jesus was always willing to mix with those whom society shunned. Although He was sinless Himself and never committed a sin to reach a sinner, He freely shared the table with anyone willing to come. In their self-righteousness, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were more concerned with avoiding the sinner than seeking to restore the sinner. The Lord, however, showed love and forgiveness. As He explained:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, ESV)
The Lord’s mission on earth was to seek and to save the lost. He met them where they were and extended His mercy. As His emissaries to a lost world, are we willing to invite those who desperately need a Savior to sit with us around His table? Is anyone “too sinful” for us to invite them to join us? Or can we smile and say, “Here, pull up a chair. There’s room beside me!”
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7, ESV).
Thank You, Lord, for the day you extended mercy to me. You were willing to invite me to Your table and offered me hope for a better way of living. Help me to now extend that same love and mercy to those I encounter each day. Allow me to see beyond the grit and grime of sin to the potential they have as a new creation in Christ. No one is beyond Your love and mercy.