Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:1-2)
So often, we want to hear the accusations of the Pharisees and scribes and instinctively clutch our pearls at the audacity of such statements. "This man eats with sinners" for us seems so petty. We immediately duck the issue by taking the general route. "So what if Christ eats with sinners? We're all sinners. I went through AWANA, I know 'for all have sinned'. Who are you to make a big deal of it?" I get it. It's the easy response. It softens the accusations because it softens the offense. But we need to look at this passage by being honest about what Christ is doing. He's fellowshipping with the morally bankrupt.
Food is important to us, especially as someone who lives in the South. Good things happen over good food; the people that you eat with you find common ground with. About a year ago, I stopped for lunch at my local sushi house. It's very popular and is known for being incredibly busy at lunch. To accommodate those of us without tables, the hostess paired me with a lady who was also eating alone. This is the nightmare scenario for introverts: making small talk with a stranger in a crowded restaurant. But very quickly we started talking because we had to, and I learned that we actually like the same soccer teams, the same beer, and shared a lot of common worldview. Eating with someone forces you to associate and usually you don't eat a meal with someone you don't like. So then let us not downplay what Christ is actually doing. Jesus is associating with these people. He's finding common ground with them. He's eating a meal and sitting beside these sinners.
Nor should we downplay who he is eating with. When the religious leaders are calling them "sinners" they are less playing up their moral superiority and more using a term for a class of people. These are those whose lives are so marked by immorality that association would be seen as scandalous. These are prostitutes, bums, and outcasts. These are the tax collectors who abuse and swindle their own countrymen.
This man receives the sexually immoral and eats with them.
This man receives the drug dealer and eats with them.
This man receives prostitutes, pimps, payday loan sharks, and the poor. He eats with Republicans and Democrats, rednecks and gangbangers, the white-collar account executive and the no-collar good ol' boy. He receives the shady lawyer. The crippled and lame share a meal with Him.
But He now does something far greater. He calls these sinners to His Table in Word and Sacrament. Yes, we, the same sinners and tax collectors are invited to a far greater Supper. I firmly believe that the Sacraments are the great equalizer of us all. We cannot ignore the dividing lines that we have set up for ourselves, but the Sacraments tear down those walls. There are no liberals or conservatives at the Table, for they are all citizens of a far better Kingdom. There are no rich and poor at the Table, for they are simultaneously too poor to offer anything to Him and heirs of all things in Him. Regardless if we limp to the table, are pushed there, or run to it, He receives us broken sinners and unites us together over and above anything we would use to wrongly divide us. So then when we were baptized we were not only united to Christ, but grafted into His people, some of whom we reject socially or politically. When we come to the table, we share a sweet communion not just with Christ, but also those who are also united to Him. That is the folly of the religious teachers; they failed to see that the meal is also for them. They too were welcome to come to Him and join the feast. But this meal is not for those who are righteous; the healthy have no need for a doctor. The feast is for the hungry. The sacraments are for sinners and tax collectors.
So then as we come to the Table, let us rest knowing that Christ receives broken sinners. Let us rejoice knowing that Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood, becoming the Feast for us. Let us eat and drink with joy seeing that we are united together with fellow sinners. Let us give thanks to Christ who joins us together and feeds us with Himself.