A Bible Reading: Mark 2. 13 – 17
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. 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. 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?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
A Thought One of the things I have missed the most during the Covid restrictions has been the opportunities to sit and eat together with family, friends and strangers. There is always much talk over a meal ranging from idle chit-chat to deep and meaningful conversations. And for some people, those conversations may prove life-changing.
Let me give you an example from the Thursday lunch club in our previous parish. We were halfway through our main course when, out of the blue, a lady asked me whether I had lost my faith when Anna had died. Up until that point we had just been chatting about ordinary day-to-day things, but this opened up a more serious conversation about faith, which would be significant in her ongoing journey with God. Normally when I am involved in training events, it is often over the coffee or lunch time that I have the most important conversations with church leaders about worship in their churches, their frustrations, hopes and dreams, or with individuals in particular pastoral need.
Jesus knew the value of hospitality and as a result he was accused not only of eating with the wrong kind of people but also of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11. 19). The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus eating with others: intimate mealtimes with his disciples like the Last Supper (recorded in all four Gospels) or the BBQ breakfast on the beach after the resurrection (John 21.10 - 13); meals with other groups like the dinner at Levi’s house or tea at the house of Zacchaeus, another tax collector renowned for his ability to cheat people (Luke 19. 1 - 10); and also meals with larger groups like the wedding feast at Cana (John 2. 1 – 11) or the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Matthew 14), when the practical physical needs of wine and bread were also met.
The Theos Foundation’s ‘Grace Project Report’, which looks at social action and church growth, stressed the importance of hospitality and shared food and drink. Eating and drinking together meets many needs for hungry people not just a sating of physical appetite. The offer of a place at the table nurtures a sense of welcome and enjoyment but more importantly a sense of worth, acceptance, belonging and deepening relationship.
We can still follow the example of Jesus despite the continuing Covid restrictions? We may not be able to physically share coffee and cake after church yet, but you can still join us on Zoom after a service? With the summer weather and the obvious advantages of eating outside, we will be inviting people from church and the community to come and eat with us. Why not do the same and see where the conversation leads. It could encourage a significant step on the journey of faith for some.
A Prayer Lord Jesus, you sat and ate with so many different people and made them feel welcome and accepted. May we follow your example and offer hospitality to those around us. Amen.
'Eat this bread' from the Taizé Community