Several weeks ago at church meeting we were talking about Jesus being the friend of sinners, and that He ate with “publicans and sinners”. I commented that He also ate with Pharisees, and I could see lights going on in some of the heads – they had not thought of that angle before. We must be careful, lest we be like radio teacher Steve Brown, who acknowledged, “One of my great sins in being Pharisaical about Pharisees!”
To remember only that Jesus ate with publicans and sinners is to miss an historical and theological truth of the Bible. With whom did Jesus eat? Jesus ate with publicans and sinners. He ate with Pharisees. He ate with His disciples. He even ate with (and fed) a mixed multitude of people who had gathered to see and hear Him. Jake Grogan says cutely that Jesus ate with sinners, snobs and saints. That’s a pretty good way to remember it – as long as we remember that both the snobs and saints are sinners also!
More has been written on the subject of Jesus's eating habits than one might suppose. Jeremy Sweets provides a nice brief chart of Meals in Luke’s Gospel. One author titled his book Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel. Others have gone so far to say that "Jesus ate his way through [all four of] the gospels.
Let's notice a few with whom Jesus ate (and drank).
He ate with Pharisees.
Simon: Luke 7:37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment
A chief (unnamed) Pharisee: Luke 14:1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. (check Luke 11:45 and 12:1).
He ate with “publicans and sinners”.
Levi (Matthew): Luke 5:29-30 And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
Zaccheus: Luke 19:2,5,7 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich...And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house...And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
He ate with His disciples.
In the fields: Luke 6:1 And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.
The Passover supper: Luke 22:11 And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
Cleopas and another disciple: Luke 24:30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.
He ate with a (mixed) multitude.
Feeding over 5000: Luke 9:13-17 But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people. For they were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. And they did so, and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.
Some other Lucan references to eating:
Luke 11:37 And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat.
Luke 14:15 And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.
Luke 15:2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
If Jesus’s eating habits were important enough for God to inspire them into the eternal record, they must be important enough that we are supposed from learn from them. Well, what should we learn?
Let’s notice a few possibilities.
Jesus didn’t eat “at the devil’s table.”
Luke 4:2-4 Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. After Jesus had fasted forty days in the wilderness and was hungry, the devil appeared with an “offer of bread” – particularly that Jesus satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread. Rather than eat according to the devil’s direction, we learn from Jesus the wonderful truth of the priority of God’s word and God’s will over the physical and circumstantial. Situations such as sitting down at supper with an unbelieving neighbor are not “eating at the devil’s table,” but we need to learn what is and when to avoid it (Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:21).
Jesus is a friend of sinners.
Luke 7:34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
Though Jesus didn’t eat “at the devil’s table,” he is “a friend of sinners.” Since Jesus is a friend of sinners, we ought to learn from that to be welcoming to those who “aren’t like us”. Jesus sat down with both some immoral sinners and intolerant scribes – those who likely aren’t our first choices for “communitas.” In Jesus ate his way through the gospels, Mark Glanville writes, “We learn from Jesus fellowship meals that our tables should be places of radical welcome, especially for those who feel lonely and on the outside. This is the shape of the Kingdom of God!” What shape does your table take?
Jesus used meals as occasions of instruction.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus’s meals (and examples of food and drink) serve as occasions for teaching. For examples: after his fasting, at his temptation of Jesus teaches about the true bread (Luke 4:1-4); when his disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath, Jesus teaches his Lordship over the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-5); when sending the seventy, he teaches the laborer is worthy of his hire, and to eat what is set before them (Luke 10:1-9); with a story of three loaves, he teaches the importance of importunate prayer (Luke 11:1-13); with the example of feasting in the parable of the prodigal son and his elder brother, he teaches the joy over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:11-32); in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, he shows that faring sumptuously and begging bread are not indicators of one’s spiritual condition (Luke 16:19-31). Some mistake Jesus’s actions as an example to use meals as a pretense to evangelism, while caring little or nothing for the person or persons with whom he ate. Such is far from our Lord’s actions. Jesus did not feign feasting to cover a bare evangelistic outreach. For example, in the Gospel of Luke chapter 11:37ff. Jesus accepted an invitation of a Pharisee and spent much of his time upbraiding the Pharisees and lawyers. Jesus’s overall sharing of meals was ostensibly incidental while yet exquisitely determinate.
Jesus used meals as occasions of fellowship.
Luke 10:38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
All meals are a form of fellowship, but meals with his disciples were a family fellowship. There are times to withdraw from the world for the singular casual and peaceful fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ – when we gather together around the word of God, around his praises, around his Spirit, and, yes, around his table.
Jesus did not overlook, whitewash, or excuse sin, but He did not kowtow to either the culture or the religion of the day. He conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:27). Jesus forgave an immoral woman who washed His feet (Luke 7:47-50). He healed a Syrophenician woman’s daughter (Mark 7:26-30). He touched the untouchable (Luke 5:13). He entered the tax gatherer Zacchaeus’s house (Luke 19:5). But, in including these “outcasts,” Jesus did not cast out the “included.” He conversed with the Pharisee teacher Nicodemus who came to Him by night (John 3:1ff) and went to eat at Simon the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36). He pitied the importunate young rich ruler (Mark 10:17-22), healed the daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue (Mark 5:22-42) and wept over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). There was room in Jesus’s love for all who came to Him (There’s room in God’s eternal love to save thy precious soul; Room in the Spirit’s grace above, to heal and make thee whole. Anon.)
Jesus defied the social and religious establishment. This was not defiance for the sake of defiance, but the defiance of obedience – the obedience to God rather than men, the exaltation of truth above tradition, the being about his Father’s business rather than just being. He ate with saints and sinners, Pharisees and publicans, according to the purpose of his coming, as well as the purpose of eating. Jesus is better than any of us have imagined. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). He feeds the hungry and sits down at the table of the undeserving. He invites himself and accepts invitations. Perhaps one day you may hear “...make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.”