I wrote the following post for our August church newsletter:
Throughout Jesus’s ministry, he was criticized by religious leaders for eating with or offering table fellowship to those who were considered traitors (tax collectors) and sinners (Matthew 9; Mark 2; Luke 5, 6, and 15). In first-century Palestine, who you ate with mattered because of the ritual purity teachings of the religious leaders. Tax collectors were considered unclean because they had joined the Roman empire in cheating their neighbors through unfair taxes and extortion. Resentment and hatred were reserved especially for tax collectors. Sinners were any non-observant Jewish people, unable to maintain their own ritual purity.
As I think about our present political and cultural moment, I wonder how much has really changed about table fellowship or eating together from the first century. We may not call other people unclean, but we are often very aware of who we do and do not associate with. Who are you inviting to your kitchen or dining room table? As we enter a new school year, maybe the best way to overcome some of our political and cultural angst is to eat together with those who think differently than we do. When was the last time that you invited someone different than you to your table for a meal? You know exactly who I’m writing about. Who annoys you when they talk about their concerns about our world, or who do you tend to tune out at church or work because you cannot believe that they think this way or that? Who is not welcome at your table, not because they are evil or dangerous, but because you’re not sure if you want to sit long enough to have a meal with them (or maybe because you’re not sure that you want others to know that you had a meal with them? “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? … And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others” (Matt. 5:46-47)?