ISAIAH 58: 9B-14/LUKE 5:27-32
So what’s with Jesus eating and drinking all the while? Consider this; His public ministry began in Cana at a wedding feast and ended in Jerusalem at the last supper. Both were meals! He was at Lazarus home, there were meals for the four thousand and five thousand. He was eating in the house of Zacchaeus, the home of the Pharisee and on the road to Emmaus. Some scripture scholars jokingly say that Jesus ate his way through the gospels.
And then there was the criticism of where He ate and with whom He ate. Shockingly, joining the never ending chorus of complaints from the Pharisees were the disciples of John the Baptist. “Your disciples do not fast!” they complained. In general, they were more than uncharitable to Jesus when they called him a glutton and friend of drunkards. How did He react? Simple, He ‘memorialized it,’ forever! “Take”, He says to us at every Eucharist, “and eat, for this is my body.”
But for a Jew, dinner was more than diplomacy. Sharing a meal was an invitation into one’s inner circle and hence you can see why the Pharisees saw red. Every Jew was well aware who he could or could not eat with. Jesus was eating with those whom the Pharisees had always condemned as sinners. Jesus, gentle as He is, merely called them ‘lost’ and over a meal, showed them the way to heaven.
Jesus ate with ‘tax collectors’ and ‘sinners’; in fact He had a penchant for them. People like Zacchaeus and now this chap, Levi! Tax collectors were double trouble: first, they were perceived by their fellow Jews as colluding with the Roman Empire. Second, they made their living by charging more than they passed on to the Roman rulers. ‘Sinners’ such as prostitutes, criminals and tax collectors were considered evil, because of their deeds.
But Jesus looks at the heart and He sees more than what the Pharisees saw. He sees beyond a scheming tax collector and recognizes a potential gospel writer. Yes, many believe that Levi is Matthew, the gospel writer. So here is something we can learn. God sees a saint in a sinner, but like Levi, the choice of saying yes to being His disciple, must be ours.
Levi’s response to the love of Jesus is overwhelming and worthy of imitation. In that brief paragraph we see the generosity of a forgiven soul. Levi left ‘everything behind’ gave a ‘great banquet’ and a ‘large crowd’ of tax collectors and sinners ate with Him. What a scandal this must have seemed like! What a sight! So why did Jesus do this? Did He just like to court controversy?
His response is clear. It would make no sense if He came to ‘call’ the righteous to repentance. They did not need to repent; they were already on the right path. That’s why He has not come to ‘call’ them. But interestingly He does not say I have not COME for the righteous; He is here for everyone. But His CALL, His mission, His ‘USP’, if you like it, is primarily for sinners. It’s a qualified call; sinners are called to change their lives.
Before you eat your next meal, look around. Perhaps Jesus is at your table: the unseen guest at every meal. Saying the grace before meals is a great way of inviting Him to eat with us, acknowledging that we too are sinners and He wants to be with us. Think of the disciples walking to Emmaus. It is at the breaking of bread that they recognized Him and their hearts burned. Perhaps Lent would be a great time to share a meal with someone who is all alone in the community. For where two or three are gathered in His name, even for a meal, HE IS THERE.
Fr Warner D’Souza
In memory of Fr Leslie Ratus, who encouraged me to love the Lord and His Word. Rest well my friend