Jesus does a lot of eating in the Gospels.
Wandering through the Gospel of Luke, we find Jesus eating at the house of Levi and the Pharisees complaining that he eats with tax collectors and sinners. (Luke 5:27-31) In Luke 7, Jesus accepts the invitation to dine at the house of a Pharisee where he is sought out by a sinful woman of the city who anoints his feet (Luke 7:36-50). He dines again with a Pharisee in Luke 11 (vs. 37) and spends the meal denouncing Pharisees and lawyers for neglecting the justice and love of God.
Jesus is at a meal when he urges people to invite the poor to their meals rather than their friends (Luke 14:12-14). He invites himself to stay with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5). The last thing Jesus does before his death is eat a meal with his disciples (Luke 22:14-21) and then one of the first things the risen Christ does is have a meal with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:28-35).
What strikes me about this small sampling (we didn’t even look at the stories in the other three Gospels!) is the wide variety of people Jesus ate with. He accepted invitations from the rich and powerful, but also ate with the despised and rejected. He dined with people he didn’t agree with as well as those who cared most about him.
I recently came across a post by Rachel Held Evans entitled, “Let’s Build Bigger Banquet Tables.” It’s a great read and I commend it to you. As I’ve been thinking about what the Church is supposed to be about, one particular passage really struck home with me. She writes:
“[Jesus] knew that there is a difference between feeding people and dining with people. Feeding people means keeping the hungry at arm’s length. It means sending checks now and then, making Thanksgiving baskets once a year, preaching about justice, and launching new ministries…all while sitting comfortably at the head of a tiny table, dropping scraps from our abundance to the floor. Americans are good at feeding people. But dining with people is an entirely different matter.”
Now, I’m not trying to dissuade any of us from doing to good work of feeding people. Jesus, after all, did take the time to feed 5,000 people in one sitting (one of the few events found in all four Gospels.) We are called upon to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked. But we are also called upon to welcome the stranger.
Maybe what Jesus was trying to model to us was the importance of getting to know the other, to offer not only charity but friendship, to create space for understanding. For when you sit down at table with another and hear their story, you cannot see them as “the other” any longer. You cannot help but see them as a fellow child of the Kingdom.