Matthew 9 :9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?*”
12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’* For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
I got more than a few telling offs for bad table manners growing up and even now Ann has the odd moan at me. However I feel in good company because its pretty clear that Jesus had bad table manners too. In fact you could argue that the grown up Jesus died because of his table manners. You see to the religious people of Jesus day, Jesus mealtime habits made him a dangerous subversive who was undermining God’s ways and so endangering the holiness of God’s People.
New Testament expert Conrad Gempf explains it like this, “For a first century jew, having dinner with someone was making a statement about acceptance and about religious fellowship. Supper was not just sustenance, supper was spirituality. Doing lunch was doing theology. And Jesus was a guy who would chow down with anyone. He accepted dinner invitations from upstanding pharisees, but he also swapped snacks with less savoury souls. Having a reputation for eating with tax collectors and sinners was not unlike being a know associate of politicians, prostitutes and gangsters.”
In essence Jesus embodied his message about the Kingdom of God over the dinner table. He didn’t just preach about God’s radical acceptance and love for those who felt far from God, his dinner guests got to taste that grace as they shared food together. This was in stark contrast to the Pharisees table manners. They believed that God would accept people if and when they got their lives sorted out and cleaned up and became like them, once the sinners were “cleaned up and acceptable” then the Pharisees would have thought about sitting down at a table with them. Jesus in contrast set extra places at his table and said come as you are. Few people got up from dinner with Jesus as they had sat down, instead they were touched and changed by this culinary taste of the Kingdom of God. Grace wasn’t something that Jesus said at dinner it was the main course on his menu!
So when you think about it to eat with Jesus is to accept his offer of God’s transforming love. Sharing bread with Jesus is in fact what it was for Matthew a tacit acceptance of our need for his grace. At the meal table Jesus offers grace and his guests accept grace. The more I think about that the more it kind of gives me a whole new perspective on sharing the Lord’s Supper. Just as it did for Matthew and so many others, when we gather at Christ’s Table His grace becomes tangible and tasty.
All of this must surely have implications for how we live as God’s people as well. To follow Christ is to offer radical invitations and acceptance to everyone including especially, the least, the lonely and left out and despised and rejected of our culture. Our church events, our family meals or get togethers and trips out as friends should incarnate the invitation and acceptance of the values of Jesus. There are can be no private parties or meals for those in the Kingdom of God, our table must always have room for another setting.
So while we might not want to put our elbows on the table or slurp our soup, lets make sure we develop some bad table manners of the Jesus kind.