(This post is for those I wounded last week. I am truly sorry.)
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)
We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions. Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death. So today we often ignore and disregard their questions. But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention. Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter. And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.
Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment. Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger. It was deep and intimate, even sacred. Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments. And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories. But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table. Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME? Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment? Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening. Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.
- Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
- We become overly obsessed with our feelings
- We put others down for our own reasons. Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners. Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
- We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
- We make poor choices in our life
- We do not consider the consequences of those choices
- When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
- We manipulate people for our own ends
- We allow labels to become our sole identity
- We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
- We ignore what matters the most
- We close our eyes to the needs around us
- We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
- We put blame on the doorstep of others
- We gossip
- We smear the good name of others
- We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
- We give in to our lustful desires
- We point out the problems without offering solutions
- We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
- I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________
I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus. I fail Him more times than I care to admit. I mess things up. I assume. I forget. I become careless. I surrender to the wrong things. I fail to fight the right things. I am sitting at Levi’s table. And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners. Laughing at our jokes and telling his own. Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table? I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself. Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.
And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?” Or am I pointing my own finger at me? (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.) “Why, Jesus, why? Why me? Why now? Can’t you see what a mess I am? I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I am a man of unclean lips! Why are you smiling at me? Why? Why? Why? Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless. I’m a failure!” But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread? Here, let me refill that cup.”
More bread? Refill the cup? Me????? Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry. I could, I should–I ought to run away now! “Run, Randy, Run!” My hands are shaking as I take the bread. My legs are shaking as I take that cup. Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse. So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus. I just don’t understand, why? I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess. I feel like this failure is final and fatal. Washed up and washed out. But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry. And that Cup has the finest wine ever. You should taste it. It is really good.”
Could it be true? Does Jesus still care about me? Dare HE forgive me? A fresh start? Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM? I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand. And I see it, clear as day–the Scar! It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross. I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?” He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore. In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar. I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy. And I’m just as proud of them, too.” Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why? Why Jesus? Why me?”
The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said. His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine. It really tastes great. None better, I tell you. If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.” That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.” I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back. They were tears of release. With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.
There was a flood of relief coming over me. Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later. And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question: “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?” Those disciples looked terrified. Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place? I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey! Why don’t you just ask Jesus? You cowards!” The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.
But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do. His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table. HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there. They don’t know what you know. Not yet, but they will, they will. Besides, I’ve got this. And about last week? If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too. Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”
“Guys, you are right. I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.” His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”. He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine. What will HE say? “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?” Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again. “Unlike some, they know they are sick. So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again. Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”
And as for me? I don’t have to ask why anymore. The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me. He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful. I should have trusted Him last week. I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.” But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.” Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…