Table Fellowship with Tax Collectors and Sinners

Posted: October 14, 2014 in Church, Theology and Faith
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Luke 5:27-32 records the story of Jesus eating with Levi the tax collector and various other riff raff (sinners) of the community.  This is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, shortly after he has described what that will look like by quoting Isaiah 61.  It is a ministry of setting the oppressed free, giving sight to the blind, healing the sick… proclaiming the Year of the Lord’s favor – Jubilee.  It is a ministry of freedom.  It is a ministry given to the outsiders, the no-good-doers, the dung heap of humanity.

Tax collectors were the traitors of the Jewish culture.  They worked with the Roman overlords and often took more money for themselves.  They were thieves and power-mongers.  Jesus was eating with them.  The sinners were the unclean, the unrighteous, the unholy.  They were outside the community as pagans or the ostracized members of the community.  They were worth the dirt they tread, at least in the eyes of good, holy folk, like the Pharisees.  Jesus was eating with them.

The church-goers, the holy people, the religious leaders were obviously concerned.  After all, “birds of a feather flock together.”  To associate with that which is unholy and unsavory made you one of them.  If Jesus, as a holy teacher, was as holy as he claimed, then he would know it was bad form, against the Law, unholy to associate – much less eat – with sinners and tax collectors.  Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus did.  It truly was Jubilee, the Year of the Lord’s favor.  Freedom had come for those who were caught up in sin and the systems of evil.  Those who were considered exiles, outsiders, and outcasts found themselves welcome at the table, welcome in the fellowship, and a part of a community again.  It irked those religious leaders.

Jesus continues to host the meal of inclusion.  Communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper (whatever title it may fall under) are the means by which Christ invites us to dine at his table.  Not because we are worthy of the invitation.  Rather, it is a table that offers us freedom once again, freedom found only in communion with God and with one another.  We find ourselves as sinners and tax collectors welcome to partake in a meal that looks toward the great banquet where all peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will dine together in peace.  No longer will it be a table of insiders and outsiders.  It will be one at which all are welcome.  We are reminded of this every time we receive communion.  We were those who were invited when we were outside the community.  Now, in our joy, we get to extend the same invitation to those who are not yet eating at the Lord’s Table.

I remember a significant moment in my own life.  I found myself outside of the community of faith.  I was an untouchable.  Holiness was not a part of my life’s program.  Living a life aimed toward God was not my concern.  God managed to get my attention, but I wondered if I would be welcomed into the community.  Would I be welcome if they knew who and what I was.  My very first experience back in the Church was found through an invitation to a dinner.  I was welcomed, despite my rough edges, to the table as one of the community.  It forever changed the trajectory of my life.  When we invite others to join our table fellowship, we are an extension of the Lord’s Table.  We begin participating in that great final banquet the Lord has prepared for us all.  Who is gathered at your table?


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