You know there’s nothing I like better at this time of year than getting together with friends or family for a good meal.
Christmas Lunch for us was pretty quiet.
But we made up for it last Monday night with family dinner.
And then Tuesday night a BBQ at our place with Susie’s in laws.
Wednesday night Lou and I scored free tickets to Australian Outback Adventure, so we got together with a thousand or so others for a fantastic steak and a show.
Thursday we were invited out to celebrate New Year’s Eve with more friends.
Friday was a night off to recover.
And last night was Thai takeaway.
It’s that kind of time of year. Lots of eating and drinking and celebrating.
Which is why we thought it was a good time for our relaxed little summer series we’ve called Meals with Jesus.
Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but Luke’s gospel is loaded with meals. It’s like every page you turn, he’s at it again. Having dinner.
MEALS IN LUKE
Last week Pier took us to Luke 5; Jesus sharing a meal with tax collector Levi. And a hundred or so of his closest friends. A great banquet, that left the religious pharisees complaining “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
This morning for meal 2 we’re in Luke chapter 7 and facing exactly the same issue.
Meal 3 in Luke 9 is more of a picnic. For 5,000 people.
Luke 14 is a meal in a Pharisee’s house, like today’s meal. And again there’s a scandal. Like today’s meal. And again there’s a parable. Like today’s meal.
Luke 15 is not so much a feast as it’s the story of a feast. When a lost son comes home. That’s meal 5.
And meal 6 in Luke 22 is a passover meal. That we’ve come to call the last supper.
That’s our summer series that’s going to take us all the way through January in a time of the year that you might be sharing your table a bit more than you do the rest of the year. And maybe there’ll be some points to ponder. On who Jesus chooses to share his meals with. Or the points being made when he does. Or when he tells a story of a meal. Usually they’re stories of inclusion and exclusion or of celebration or commemoration. Things we still mark with meals today.
Although we’re doing it less these days than I suspect any time in history.
Robert Putnam in the book Bowling Alone tracks what he calls the collapse of American community with some statistics like these. He’s talking about America, but I’m guessing we’re not far behind.
Over the last 30 years, there’s been a 33% decline in families eating together. It’s dropped ten percent every decade.
Most American families now eat together only three times a week. At an average of only 20 minutes per meal.
Over the same time there’s been a 45% drop in hospitality to friends. So while 30 years ago for most American families it was absolutely normal to have friends to Sunday lunch… these days it’s rare.
Which is both a cause and an indicator I think, of the breakdown of community.
Because fundamentally in every culture, fundamentally across the world and across the ages, sharing a meal together has always been more than just functional. Sharing a table is on a deep level an indicator of acceptance. Of belonging. Acommunal meal is both a profound builder of community and a profound indicator of community.
The English pastor and author Tim Chester says,
The marginalised cease to be marginal when they’re included around a meal table. The lonely cease to be lonely. The alien ceases to be alien. Strangers become friends.
Which is why it’s so significant to see in the New Testament who Jesus chooses to eat with. And the waves he’s making.
Because while for many the thing to do is to be seen associating upwards at your meal table, as the way to be upwardly mobile, Jesus wasn’t choosy at all.
I wonder if you’re the kind of person who’s maybe quite protective of your dining table? You’re maybe hospitable when it comes to comfortable family and well worn friends; you enjoy a good meal time. But a bit like my own week of festivities that I just mentioned, it’s notable for the fact that if you look at it carefully it’s conveniently selective. It’s full of family and friends and fun people.
When it comes to meals with Jesus, he’s got a reputation that’s quite astonishing.
A reputation not just as a party guy. But a guy who parties with all the wrong people. It was there in chapter 5 last Sunday. As the Pharisees were griping about.
And just so we don’t miss it, Luke’s reminding us of the same issue again as Jesus responds in chapter 7. Immediately before he sits down of another meal.
Verse 33, Jesus says, guys like John the baptist and me, we just can’t keep you Pharisees happy, can we? John comes fasting out there in the wilderness neither eating bread nor drinking wine and you say he has a demon. The son of mancomes; he’s talking about himself; he says I come eating and drinking, you say “He’s a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
But he says, wisdom is proved right by all her children. By which he means, let’s see how it all pans out. Which we will, from the very next verse.
DINNER WITH SIMON
Which is unusual, because it’s actually a Pharisee who invites him to dinner. It’s a Pharisee named Simon, and Jesus goes to his house, and he reclines at the table. Which is what in those days you did. Low table, you’d kind of lounge around it and relax and enjoy the kebabs.
Now it’s kind of nice I guess that Simon would invite Jesus to a meal at his place; maybe out of curiosity. Most of the Pharisees were just out to get him.
But as it turns out, he’s only made a half hearted effort, which becomes very clear in the embarrassing situation that’s about to unfold.
You’ll need to imagine a house with a fairly open front room; seems like this is a meal the whole town is talking about, and one of those occasions with plenty of people milling around. Including, as it turns out a woman from the town who we’re told in verse 37 “lived a sinful life.”
You can imagine the details for yourself I guess; but she’s a woman with a reputation that everyone knows.
And before anyone has a chance to stop her, she’s in the dining room with an alabaster perfume jar, and if you imagine Jesus reclined at the meal table, she’s there behind him at his feet and she’s weeping and her tears are pouring down on hisfeet… and then she’s wiping them dry with her hair; and she’s kissing them. And then pouring out lashings of her own expensive perfume all over his feet and onto the floor. And you can only imagine the beautiful smell of the perfume overlaid with the aromas of the middle eastern food; at the same time as people are saying what on earth is she doing.
Now look, this is kind of embarrassing.
I don’t know if you’ve had any embarrassing dinner party moments. Where the conversation just stops. And everyone turns to look at you.
My worst was the time a glass of red wine suddenly somehow ejected itself upward from my fingers and arced beautifully over my shoulder onto the white carpet. My hosts were very gracious, but I can still remember the moment like it was yesterday.
At this point Simon the Pharisee says nothing. Except to himself.
And it’s interesting if you look at his thoughts, which is what Jesus was doing, and what we can do as well. Because Luke tells us exactly what’s going on in the pharisee’s head.
It’s there in verse 39:
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-that she is a sinner.
If he were a prophet, which he obviously isn’t, he’d know better.
If he were a man of God, which he obviously isn’t, he’d know who to avoid.
If he were a proper religious leader like me, he’d shun a woman like that and have nothing to do with her.
Jesus, if you knew what sort of woman that is touching you, you’d have nothing to do with her. You’d be embarrassed as you should be. By this terrible display.
Except that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? Jesus does know. And he welcomes her anyway. Jesus does know. But we’ve been told often enough already, this is the guy who welcomes sinners and eats with them. He calls them friend. And he’s notembarrassed at all. And it seems neither is she.
At which point Jesus tells a story. A pointed parable. Because even though Simon hasn’t said those words, Jesus knows exactly what he’s thinking.
A POINTED PARABLE
Two debtors. One loan shark. A money lender. They’ve got the Nimble app on their phones, they’ve both gone in over their heads, and now they can’t pay.
One’s in debt for 50 days wages, the other for 500. He’s borrowed nearly two years’ salary, and he can’t pay it back.
And the loan shark turns out to not be a loan shark at all. More of a loan dolphin. Because he says, forget it guys. I’m going to forgive you.
Both of you.
I’m going to cancel your 50 denarius debt.
I’m going to cancel your 500 denarius debt.
Here’s how Jesus puts it. You can see it in verse 42.
42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?
Now look, it’s obvious where this is heading, isn’t it? It’s all about people like Simon the Pharisee, and people like the sinful woman.
Which one is going to love this unbelievably forgiving money lender more? It’s not a hard question. And Simon answers it correctly on his first attempt. I guess the one who had the bigger debt forgiven. I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Although maybe not quite so obvious to Simon that it’s an explanation for exactly what’s going on at the meal table and the lavish gratitude being shown by the woman as she weeps on his feet.
Because she’s found mercy at last. She’s found forgiveness of her debts that have mounted up higher than she could ever cope with. And now they’re forgiven by one who’s prepared to welcome her and share a table with her and with anyonelike her in the name of the Lord of the universe.
Simon, on the other hand, might have invited Jesus to dinner. But it’s clear, isn’t it, that his heart’s not in it. There’s been no welcome. There’s been no can I take your coat, can I pour you a drink.
When it comes to who should be embarrassed, it’s not Jesus or the woman. It’s Simon. The host who wasn’t.
Look at the contrast. Verse 44 to 46.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 you didn’t give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 you didn’t put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
She’s the one. Who’s been the real host at your dinner party. And she wasn’t even on your guest list.
I guess it’s because she’s been forgiven so much. And you’ve been forgiven so little.
She’s had a big debt forgiven. And she knows it. Which is why she loves me so much. Where as you’ve just ignored me. Loved little.
Now do you reckon at this point that means the Pharisee’s okay? Nothing to forgive? Or that the Pharisee’s badly missed the point?
Jesus turns to the woman, and he confirms what she’s sensed already.
Your sins are forgiven. Your faith. Your trust in me. It’s saved you. So go in peace.
Which of course causes another ruckus among the more proper guests; who is this who even forgives sins?
Who is this money lender in the parable who goes around cancelling debts like that?
What kind of man is this? Who accepts people like that? And claims to wipe their slates clean?
That’s the question Luke’s gospel is setting out to answer. And over the next few weeks will become clearer as we share more and more meals with Jesus.
And the thing that’s clear is that whoever you are here this morning, Jesus is more than happy to share a table with you. If you come with the attitude of the woman. If you come looking for forgiveness; and respond with a heart full of humility and gratitude.
Doesn’t matter who you were or what kind of debt you’ve piled up; he’s ready to stamp cancelled on your whole account.
It’s people like that Jesus loves to party with.
It’s people like that who end up ready to pour out their gratitude and love all over the place. Because they know. They’ve been forgiven much.
It’s people like that. Who take the boundaries down. Between them and everyone else. Because you know how much mercy you’ve been shown yourself. Who’ll show boundless hospitality to all kinds of real people with real problems because of the hospitality from Jesus they’ve already received from Jesus himself.
Friends, that’s us. That’s what it means to be church. That’s the point Luke’s going to be making over and over again.
And our prayer and our goal is as we come into this new year together that more and more our church will grow more and more like that. More and more a community of all kinds of people who find grace here. And get to share in that kind of realfellowship that comes from gathering around the same table together in all kinds of ways. As those who have been forgiven much and so love much. Not looking down on anyone, because we realise we’ve got nowhere to look down from; just forgiven debtors together. Celebrating that Jesus welcomes tax collectors and sinners like us.
MEALS WITH JESUS
That might need to show itself in all kinds of concrete ways this year. Maybe for you it needs to start with opening your eyes and opening your hearts even to difficult people who are part of our church family. Even to people who aren’t your friends yet. And aren’t members of your immediate family. A costly openness to share your table and your home and your life and your cosy little growth group. Learning to be like the Lord Jesus who really is a friend of sinners like an embarrassingly sinful woman shedding tears of relief. And like you and me as well.