Luke 5:29-32 (CEV)
29 In his home Levi gave a big dinner for Jesus. Many tax collectors and other guests were also there.
30 The Pharisees and some of their teachers of the Law of Moses grumbled to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with those tax collectors and other sinners?”
31 Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 32 I didn’t come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners.”
When we lived in England a number of years ago, my husband Trevor decided that he wanted to go and visit the one church in the village he grew up in that he had never been to. It had a sign over the door that said ‘all welcome’, but when we showed up on Sunday morning the man ‘greeting’ people at the door asked to see our ‘letter of reference’. When we didn’t have one, he wanted us to leave. Just then, one of the guys Trevor had gone to school with came up and seemed to have some sway. The two of them talked for a few minutes, and we were allowed to come inside, provided we sat in the back row, didn’t say anything, and didn’t participate in communion.
After the service, we took the friend and his wife out for lunch. We asked why people were so concerned about us coming in. The friends’ wife said, “because you might be Satanists.” She might as well have said “because you might have spiritual cooties.” The point was, they didn’t know whether we were spiritually ‘clean’ or not. Whether we followed all the right rules (we obviously didn’t, since I was wearing trousers to church), whether we believed all the right things (probably not, again, since we thought ‘all welcome’ should mean that everyone was welcome), and whether we would keep the right protocol (again, I wasn’t really keen on wearing a mantilla during the service). And if we didn’t they were worried that our wrongness might rub off on them, making them less likely to be acceptable to God.
The Pharisees are worried about that as well. They’re worried that if Jesus hangs out with the tax collectors and other sinners than Jesus will become unclean. Like we talked about last week, there’s a lot of fear behind this question that the Pharisees ask.
But Jesus doesn’t really seem bothered by it. Jesus doesn’t seem to think that their “uncleanness” should disqualify them from spending time with him. In fact, he says just the opposite. “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners.”
The fact that the Pharisees are at the dinner with Jesus means that those of us who are prone to trying to get it right are allowed to come to the table.
But it also turns out that if we feel like we haven’t made the cut, then we’re allowed to come, too.
In fact, it turns out that we’re not just allowed to come.
It turns out that the table that the Pharisees assumed they had a right to sit at is the very same table that the tax collectors and sinners – the ones who knew they’d never make the cut – were issued a hand-written invitation to come, to sit, to eat, to drink, and to soak in the presence of Jesus.
- If you were to join this dinner party with Jesus, which dinner guest would you be?
- How would you feel about the other guests at the party?
- How would you respond to Jesus’ statement?
- What would his words change about how you saw yourself?
- How you saw the other people at the table?