“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.” -Mk. 2. 15-17
“Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.” -Lk. 7.36
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” -James 2.12-13
I think it is staggering that the only man who walked in perfect holiness of heart was also inclined by the Spirit to spend time and even eat meals with all types of people.
He was regularly accused of eating with tax collectors and sinners.
He had meals with Pharisees, many of whom were engaging in various types of ministry, though their hearts were entirely apostate.
He ate with prostitutes and greedy men. He ate with carpenters who had overcharged their customers. He ate with men who had memorized all kinds of Scriptures, attended the synagogue faithfully, but who were totally outside of a true place of faith.
Mind you, when the Son of God has a meal with you, it is not a normal experience. You will be met with the love and righteousness of heaven. Still, the wide array of morality and spirituality in the souls that He broke bread with is a remarkable thing to consider.
I recently heard of a brother using Paul’s statement about not eating “with any so-called brother” (1 Cor. 5) as a basis for not attending a casual meal gathering, because one of the persons at the gathering was away from the Lord and had not made it clear that he was an unbeliever. Without going into why he was taking this passage out of its context, which I could do if time and space permitted in another writing, I think a few questions need to be raised on an even simpler level.
Why did Jesus eat with all kinds of people during His public ministry? Why did He eat with outright sinners (prostitutes, drunks, swindlers, etc.), as well as men who had every outward appearance of godliness, but who were depraved and godless on the inside? Why would Paul, knowing of Jesus’ actions along these lines, instruct the believers at Corinth “not to associate” or “even to eat with such a one?”
Rather than thinking Jesus was blundering, and rather than assuming that Jesus and Paul lived with conflicting views, I am much more at peace with concluding that Paul was addressing a particular situation, and that it had more to do with the discipline of a local Church that was erring in arrogance and compromise (see 1 Cor. 4.18) than it had to do with whether one can, at any point in time, have a meal with a hypocrite.
Paul was not establishing a blanket law, but addressing those who had tolerated the sinning brother, and arrogantly assumed that the apostle would not show up with discipline in mind. To think presumptuously of the apostle was to think presumptuously of the greater Judge who is to come, and that was the Corinthian error.
But why does this matter? It matters for more reasons than we know, but here is my burden at the moment.
We have woefully disregarded the Spirit of mercy that Jesus came to convey, even to a backslidden people. We have not been men of mercy. We are more concerned with saving face than we are with extending the word of the Lord. This keeps us in a condition of being radically ill-prepared for the extension of mercy that we will be required to give Israel during the great time of trouble to come.
Some of us would’ve been looking over the crowd of 5,000-plus in Jesus’ day, which was made up of a conglomeration of 1st-century Judean souls of all types, wondering if they were fit to have a meal with us. While we were folding our arms, surveying the crowd and wondering, looking at the religious hypocrites and the sinners of all sorts, Jesus would’ve been supernaturally multiplying food and giving it freely to all who would receive it. In the Gospel story, the people were filled with awe at His power and generosity. Are we?
Remarkably, all but a few from that crowd that ate His miraculous meal were absent at His crucifixion, none of them were there when He was raised from the dead, and the vast majority of them were no where to be found at His ascension. In other words, He poured out copious amounts of mercy to a people who would mostly reject Him when the rubber hit the road. Did He love in vain? Did He give in vain? Did He share that massive meal with those thousands of people in vain? Absolutely not.
Jesus gave the people a full expression of the nature of the Father. He demonstrated selfless love and mercy, He called them away from sin and to the Father, He told them both of the glory and judgment to come. He went all the way to the cross on behalf of weak men and women, and that is why He is the center and pattern for all sons of God. But have we made Him the center, and are we following His pattern?
We are a lot more apt to walk in aloofness and stand-offish suspicions than Jesus Himself is. We are a lot quicker to write someone off than He is. We are a lot less willing to go over the precipice in sacrifice for the salvation of the unbeliever or the hypocrite. Friends, I am not encouraging a looseness toward sin, or a compromise in any form. I’m not encouraging some kind of humanistic fellowship. I’m asking, have we really come into the experience and expression of the very mercy of Christ?
Whenever I feel self-righteousness rising in my heart, whenever I begin to feel superior to another, whenever my heart hardens toward another, I ask, “Am I abiding in the Spirit of Christ, and have I really expressed Him to the person I’m finding it difficult to love?”
May the Lord have for Himself a tender people, broken and conscious of mercy, extending the life of God to Israel, the nations, and the weakest ones in our lives.