Monday, July 16, 2007

A Dinner with Jesus

(A Communion Meditation based on Matthew 9:10-13)

Whom would you invite to have dinner in your house? Most of us would not invite someone with a bad reputation or someone who committed obvious sin. Most of us would not invite someone who was an outcast from society, whose presence in our home would make our friends and neighbors look upon us with suspicion. Moreover, we usually want to be comfortable with our dinner guests, so we do not invite someone who has great need and who will wonder if we will do something to meet that need. We probably would not eat in the homes of such people, either.

In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were outcasts. They collaborated with the hated Roman occupiers and were seen as traitors to Israel. They were often cheats and criminals. They were not admired by the Romans, either, so they had no friends except for those who were like they were.

So it is amazing that one day Jesus called one of those tax collectors to be his disciple. His name was Matthew. Matthew immediately invited Jesus to his house for a meal. And Jesus went. Matthew invited many of his friends and cohorts to join in the meal. They were other tax collectors and “sinners.” It was natural that Matthew would invite those folks because he wanted them to know this person who had accepted him, called him, and changed his life.

It was also natural that the puritanical Pharisees would criticize what was going on. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” they asked his disciples. You see, Jesus was breaking ceremonial laws by eating with “unclean” persons. Besides, it could only hurt his reputation to dine with such riff-raff.

Listen to Jesus’ reply: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

If Jesus was here in the flesh today, with whom would he eat? Would he eat with those self-righteous ones who believe that they are better than anyone else? Would he eat with those who put “purity” above the needs of people? Would he eat with those whose circle is so small as to include only those of like biased mindset? Perhaps he would; he did sometimes eat with such folks when he was walking the earth. But he can’t help such folks because they don’t believe that they need any help.

Jesus would definitely eat with those who are sinners and who know it. He would dine with those whom he could help because they have no illusions about their condition. He would go to the homes of the alcoholics and drug addicts who wallow in their despair. He would go to the homes of the AIDS patients who feel helpless and hopeless. He would go to the homes of the poor who are outcast because of their economic state or to the homes of those who are outcast because of their minority status.

But would he come here? Would he come here, to this church, at this time, to eat with us? Now, this no longer a hypothetical question, for we have come here to eat the Lord’s Supper. We are assuming that he is here. We are assuming that he is present with us as we eat the bread and drink the cup. But is he? He is if we recognize ourselves for what we are: sinners. If we still see ourselves as in need of his presence, he is here. If we still see ourselves as in need of repentance, he is here. If we still see ourselves as people who are falling short and who fail him all too often, he is here. Is he here for us? As we prepare to come to the table of the Lord, let us ask ourselves: are we among those poor, needy, outcast sinners with whom Jesus gladly sits at table?

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