We are currently in the process of starting something new at the Church at Lake Guntersville. We are starting a second campus. At this campus we have a different building, different worship leaders, and different teaching topics. With that understanding, our current teaching series at the downtown campus is entitled “Room at the Table”. The series is a look at the people who ate with Jesus while asking this question, “Is there room at the table for me?” As I have prepared for this series I’ve observed Jesus in a different way, and it is scandalous. The scandal has blown my mind. It is mind blowing that God would come in flesh and eat with humans. It is mind blowing that he would eat with sinners. But it is even more mind blowing to know that the people he ate with were not just sinners, but despicable and distasteful people.
In order to see the scandal we must understand the context of Jesus’ life. The context of the Near East, especially the Ancient Near East, was a society founded on order, class, and rule. Rule was absolutely necessary to maintain order, and order was necessary to maintain life. A society full of people chasing their dreams and being all they could be was the antithesis of the Near East societies. Therefore, the American Dream is the antithesis of the society in which Jesus was born into, walked in, and died in. The United States has weakened the traditional class systems of old society with the banner of freedom, individuality, and hope of a better world, but in Jesus’ day class and caste systems where necessary and where everywhere. Most of the hatred, racism, and caste of the Near East was rooted in survival of the race itself. For instance, Samaritans where hated because they married outside of the Jewish society. Marrying outside one’s religion weakened the societal structure of the Jews, thus Jews found Samaritans so detestable that they refused to even travel through Samaria. Another example of this societal necessity is seen in the words of Caiaphas in reference to the necessary death of Jesus,
49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”– John 11:49-50
So here is the first point: Jesus ate with people who celebrated individuality and had weakened Jewish society. For instance, Zacchaeus was a wee- little man, but also a scumbag who had sold out his own people for personal financial gain.
The scandal doesn’t stop just with the fact that Jesus ate with drunks, prostitutes, and tax collectors, because eating with them meant more than just a common courtesy and free meal. In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning says this about eating with someone in the Near East. “In the Near East, to share a meal with someone is a guarantee of peace, trust, fraternity, and forgiveness- the shared table symbolizes a shared life.” Manning’s statement on the culture flips a lid on my view of Jesus’ meals. In my context a meal is just a meal. I eat with people on a daily basis that I don’t share my life with. I eat with people who are acquaintances, enemies, partners, friends, and family, but everyone that Jesus ate with understood that they were family. Manning continues on the topic with this statement,
“Jesus’ sinner guests were well aware that table fellowship entailed more than mere politeness or courtesy. It meant peace, acceptance, reconciliation, and brotherhood. For Jesus this fellowship at table was not merely the expression of liberal tolerance and humanitarian sentiment. It was the expression of his mission and message: peace and reconciliation for all without exception, even for the moral failures.”
The statement offends me and encourages me at the same time. It offends me to think that there is room at Jesus’ table for scumbags, but it encourages me to know that I am given place at the table.
The Room at the Table series continues on Sunday May 26th at 6 pm in the back of Baker’s on Main 336 Gunter Ave Guntersville, Al 35976.