When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16).
Jesus drew the ire of the Pharisees for many things in those days. He challenged their commitment to observing the commands they forced on others. He called out their hypocrisy in practicing external forms of obedience while having hearts far from God. He called to question their assumptions about people who did not fit into their vision of what it meant to be clean and pure. But among these things, He also ate with “those” people.
In choosing not only to teach, not only to talk to, not only to associate with, but to actually eat with these sinners and tax collectors, Jesus was making a powerful statement with His actions. Eating was more than sitting together to take a meal; it was a sign of fellowship and togetherness. Jesus was stating, with His actions, that these people – “those” people – were the ones He came for. The ones He came to seek and to save. And in so doing, He challenged the existing assumptions the Pharisees held about those who were, in their eyes, beneath them.
Jesus would – and will – eat with anyone.
But let us be careful here that we do not confine the “anyone” more narrowly than Jesus Himself did. Because Jesus didn’t just eat with tax collectors and sinners:
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table (Luke 7:36).
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table (Luke 11:37).
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched (Luke 14:1).
That is an encouraging reality. Because in one sense, we are all tax collectors and sinners. We were the people far from God, and are in some ways, cognizant of just how far we were. But in another sense, we are all Pharisees, convinced of our own righteousness and oblivious to just how much we truly need the fellowship that only the Son of God can offer us.
Jesus will eat with you regardless of whether you are a recovering addict or a recovering elite; a recovering sinner or a recovering Pharisee. You are welcome at the table as long as you are willing to take up the invitation. Let us, then, be careful at who we might exclude from among us. Let us not exclude those whom we consider to be too far gone because of the depth of their sin or those whom we consider to be too far gone because of their commitment to their own righteousness. The grace of God can melt any heart, whether that of the sinner or the religious. Our job is not, then, to determine who gets the invitation, but to extend it far and wide, letting both the depraved and the proud that there is yet still room at this table for them.