Surprising Dinner Companions

In the biblical tradition meals were important occasions rich in symbolism. It was customary to ratify agreements or covenants at meals, and the sacrifices offered in the temple often involved meals. The figure of Wisdom invites those in search of wisdom to her banquet. Jews in Jesus’ time pictured the kingdom of God as a great banquet, sometimes with the Messiah presiding. The meal was an image of hope for the fullness of God’s kingdom.

Liturgical day
Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), June 8, 2008
Readings
Readings: Hos 6:3-6; Ps 50:1, 8, 12-15; Rom 4:18-25; Mt 9:9-13“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 9:11)One of the most striking and controversial features of Jesus’ public ministry was his custom of sharing meals with marginal
Prayer

<p>&bull; Why were Jesus&rsquo; meals with sinners so controversial?</p> <p>&bull; What messages was Jesus putting forth with these meals?</p> <p>&bull; Do you ever come to the Eucharist in the hope of spiritual healing and divine mercy?</p>

In today’s reading from Matthew 9, we are told that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Tax (or toll) collectors were suspected of skimming off the revenues for themselves and of collaborating with the Roman occupiers and their Herodian clients. Sinners were those who displayed immoral behavior or engaged in occupations that precluded them from observing all the precepts of the Mosaic law. These were not the kind of persons with whom a pious Jewish religious teacher like Jesus was expected to associate at meals and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Jesus invites a tax collector named Matthew to follow him and become his disciple. Then he shares a meal with “many tax collectors and sinners.” In doing so, Jesus was performing an “enacted parable” about God’s kingdom and his role in it. With this symbolic action, Jesus was saying that some surprising persons will be part of the banquet in God’s kingdom, and that only those who recognize their need for God’s mercy can hope to enter it. The Pharisees failed to understand Jesus’ symbolism. Their own fellowship meals, which were central to their piety and lifestyle, would not admit such persons. Why would Jesus, with whom they had much in common, eat with such marginal and disreputable persons?

In response to the complaint of the Pharisees, Jesus gives two answers. The first sounds like a proverb: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.” Observing that the sick need doctors, Jesus presents himself as offering spiritual healing to marginal and disreputable persons by reconciling them to God and setting them on the right path of wise living. Jesus’ second answer is a quotation from Hos 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” He presents himself as the agent of God’s mercy by offering those in spiritual need an opportunity to turn to God and enjoy the fullness of God’s kingdom.

Jesus had his greatest success with marginal and disreputable persons. His meals with them were signs of hope not only regarding God’s kingdom but also regarding the kinds of persons who might participate in it. People came to Jesus in the hope of spiritual healing and divine mercy, and they found them in him.

 

More:

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

In the movie “Babette’s Feast,” a French chef takes refuge in Denmark after collapse of the Second Empire in 1871. The citizens of her adopted

Michael SimoneJanuary 23, 2017

The beatitudes are promises that God has made to humanity. Some of these promises are fulfilled in every age; mourners are comforted each day.

Michael SimoneJanuary 16, 2017

“Immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” Matthew emphasizes the speed with which the apostles put down their work to

Michael SimoneJanuary 09, 2017

Stanley Marrow, S.J., was one of the first professors I encountered when I arrived at Weston Jesuit to study theology in the fall of 2004. He

Michael SimoneDecember 24, 2016