For those of you who don’t know, I am Peruvian. Now two things about Peruvian culture are pretty important: family and food. So we usually just combined the two. So growing up during Christmas time was pretty epic. Christmas time saw uncles, aunties, cousins, nephews and nieces gather for an incredibly delicious feast (literally a feast) all 60+ of us each year would descend upon one of my uncle’s or aunty’s house to celebrate the year. I wish I could explain the smells, the taste, the buzz, the noise, the laughter, the singing, the love, the presents, the fun, the belonging but alas I can’t. It was epic. It was a feast! Yet these meals were more than just the food. I would say most meals are more than just the food. You see today we are going to look at a meal Jesus shared with some people and can I say that there was more going on than just the food.
A MEAL WITH JESUS
27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.“ 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.
Now to give you a little bit of context Jesus just prior to this meal makes an outrageous claim. He claims to be God and He claims this in quite a spectacular way. He declares a man’s sins are forgiven (which is a thing only God can do) and then seems to back it up by healing him, giving him the ability walk. Yet it grated against some of the people that were there and let’s be honest we can understand why. I mean any person claiming to be God you’d think them mad, delusional or a megalomanic. I mean even as a follower of Jesus the moment I tell anyone I worship Jesus as God, most people shut down and think it weird, that I have gone that little bit too far. Yet the moment prior to this meal Jesus claims He’s God, claims that He can forgive sins and what I find remarkable in the narrative is what Jesus, God does next.
You see Jesus leaves the scene and sees the worst of humanity and calls them to follow Him and then has a feast with him and his mates. One of the first acts Jesus does after claiming to be God is pursue the worst of us. You see Levi was a tax collector – he collected tax for the Roman government and then some. It’s hard to find a modern equivalent, but these guys were known for being corrupt, abusive in authority, and to even gain this position they needed to bid against others. In other words they would pay for the right to steal and abuse their fellow country-men and women. To top it off not only were they despised by their fellow Jews but they were usually snubbed by their peers in the Graeco-Roman world as second-rate citizens and swindlers. People knew what type of person a tax collector was. So you could almost say they’d given up everything to be in this position (financially/reputation). So you have to ask the question, why give it all up for Jesus?
I mean Levi knew what type of person he was. He was wealthy. He could basically have anything money could buy and even though he had a bad reputation, it was a reputation at the least one that most people would fearfully respect. He had a sense of security and comfort. So why give it up now? Why give it up for a local Jewish boy who claimed to be God? Jesus calls him and and he leaves everything and throws him a party. Why?
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE FOOD
30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?“ 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.“
Now don’t get me wrong but I sympathise with the Pharisees here. If I saw you eating with a known criminal or an ISIS supporter for example I am going to make some assumptions in my head! I mean even today we are hesitant to invite anyone to our dinner table. Why? Because a meal is more than just the food, isn’t it? So we need to acknowledge your own propensity to do the same as the Pharisees. Jesus just invited the worst of humanity to follow Him and decides to share a meal with more of them. Which if you haven’t quite picked up yet, culturally was more than just sharing food. It was like Jesus was saying that He had accepted them, that they belonged, that he is willing to associate with them. God was willing to associate Himself with the worst of us. So the Pharisees and their scribes ask, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?
Jesus’ response is beautiful. Listen to him: Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Why call a tax collector to follow Him? Why eat a meal with the worst of us? Because God came for you and I! He came for the sick, sinful, the broken, the weary. I imagine that every morning Levi woke up and looked in the mirror he would encounter the face of someone he despised or found hard to swallow. I imagine that every time he had any internal reflection he would encounter the utter brokenness and moral damage he done to his own heart to be where he is. He not only acknowledged he was shifty he flaunted it as a tax collector. He represented the worst of humanity and I imagine that Levi had given up on himself a long time ago. Yet Jesus came for Him. God came for you!
Jesus doesn’t neglect the broken, the outcast or sinner he doesn’t look down on them. He came to heal. He came to restore. He came to transform. Read with me:
THE REASON TO CELEBRATE
33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.“ 34And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.“
I must admit that I myself have never gone to a wedding to mope. I have never sat at wedding ceremony watching begrudgingly at the bride as she makes her way down the aisle. Or been at a reception and refused to eat the delicious food or dance because I wasn’t there to party but mourn. No, you go to a wedding, hopefully, to celebrate! You see it is really easy to think of the Christian life more like a funeral than a wedding. But Jesus says no, its more like a wedding. WE have reason to celebrate more than anyone else on this planet!
And this is what I love. He didn’t call Levi, the tax collector to a lifeless, joyless, passionless, religious life. No, He called him to something so much more. He called him to the fullness of life. He called this sinner to repent. He called this man to know there is more to life than his money, than his reputation, than his brokenness! Jesus is showing us that there is something better in life. You see that is what repentance is. It is changing the way you think and understand life. Jesus showed Levi a better way of life. Why does a broken tax collector give up everything to follow Jesus? Because He has something far better to offer. Jesus has something more than just food in mind. He gives us a reason to celebrate. A new way to see, know and live life found in Jesus – that is a life of true repentance.
Yet I love the Pharisees’ question here because it highlights what they so obviously miss. Now these guys were good at being good. They read their bibles everyday, went to every church event, prayed, said the right things, did the right things, were the ones that every one looked up to and respected, but it resulted in nothing. They were no better than the tax collector. They lived a life void of celebration and enjoyment because they missed the point. You see the Pharisees did understand an important factor of life – that the forgiveness of sins, being made right with God, was and is the best type of life. Yet what they didn’t understand was how to achieve that. You see with all their religious snobbery and religious duties to boast in it led them to be killjoys of life instead of being champions of it.
So they just didn’t quite know what to do with Jesus. Here he is celebrating life, enjoying it while they are doing anything but. Why are you eating and drinking while we fast and pray? Jesus basically says to them ‘can’t you see what’s going on here?’There is a better way to do life. Yes the Christian life is hard, yes the Christian life is about sacrifice but it is NEVER void of joy, never void of life and pleasure. Rather it’s about the fullness of these things. You see Jesus is the reason to celebrate: because he has come for the sick, because he came for sinners. There is reason to celebrate because Jesus is the one that came to bring the forgiveness of sins, restore relationship with God (because we couldn’t) so that we may have full, eternal life in Him! He has come for you and me.
Read with me:
WHY THE NEW IS BETTER
36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.‘”
Now my 3 year old daughter has her own ideas about what she considers to be good food. She will appreciate plain boiled rice with plain unseasoned meat and the minimum vegetable requirements, but would reject a 12 hour slow cooked beef with all its seasoning and trimmings. My little boy has his own ideas about how to have fun. A lot of the time it’s just him banging on things with a stick, because he hasn’t yet understood what’s on offer in life. You see you may think your old way of doing life is good, your old way of life is better. Can I say that it isn’t if you reject what Jesus is offering here.
You see the Pharisees thought life with God was all about the ‘DO’, do this and do that and you will be ok. When Jesus says it’s about the ‘DONE’, trust in what I have done and you will have life. The irony of Jesus statement of coming for the sick and sinful was that this included the Pharisees. You see they couldn’t really live up to what they preached. I mean the Pharisees worked hard to be in the position that they’re in. I mean can anyone here recite word for word the first five books of the bible… in Hebrew? Is anyone here so dedicated and meticulous about following God that you even consider your spice rack something that you would give towards the church? Anyone here pray everyday for hours, fast every other day? Man, they worked hard at being the type of person that they were and Jesus basically says that it was all for nothing, it is old. Something new has come.
They failed to see that God didn’t care how well set the table was, what type of decorations you’ve placed around, how clean the cutlery and plates are, God wasn’t about the food, no He is about relationship with Him. He is about life in Him. And Jesus has said that the only way to find that life is in Him. Is by accepting the invitation to eat at His table. God was doing something remarkably new in Jesus and the Pharisees failed to see it. So beware of thinking the old way is better. Beware of playing in the kiddie pool when God offers you the ocean. Beware of living life like a little child (who for the most part enjoys life), but have no idea at what is on offer. Because no-one buys a $10,000 Armani suit only to cut out sections of it to attach your old favouriteStar Wars pyjamas! No-one buys a $500 bottle of wine only to pour it out and refill it and seal it with a wine that has already been corked. Beware of thinking the old is better, it is not. Jesus is offering something new and better.
On the occasions I’ve had friends experience our Peruvian Christmas, I am always amazed at how often they say something along these lines: “Thank you so much I had such a great time, they treated me JUST LIKE FAMILY.” In other words, my family treated them like one of their own. So that when they shared a meal with us it was more than just a stranger sitting in a room full of other strangers eating food. It is was so much more. It represented belonging, inclusion, acceptance, invitation. So know that Jesus is inviting you today to share an even better meal. Know that Jesus is inviting the worst of you and He is inviting the best of you. Jesus came for the sick, for the sinful, for you and me.
And if you’ve been enjoying a meal with Jesus for sometime now let me challenge you. Don’t neglect those around you. Invite people to come to know Jesus. Start conversations around your meal table, open your home, invite them for a meal, build relationship with them and love people so much that you may point them to Jesus. If you enjoyed your Christmas meal this year and if you are the type to make any New Year’s resolutions, then may it be this – that you may invite more and more people to your table so that you may invite them to know Jesus.
My grandfather started the tradition in my home in Peru where he would open his home to everyone and loved sharing meals with them. He would invited those who didn’t families, those who didn’t have a place to live or stay. He didn’t speak a word of English but when my Aussie friends would stay with us in Peru, he loved having them because he wanted some way of telling them about Jesus. He once said to me that if I can’t speak English then at least they will know the love of Jesus by how I open my home. Open your home; invite your neighbours, your workmates, your family who don’t know Jesus and point them to Jesus… Come share a meal with Jesus.