Signposts: Daily Devotions

Tuesday, March 8

When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
—Mark 2:16

In first century Palestine, meals were much more significant than they are today. To sit and share a meal with someone signified acceptance and a measure of equality. When Jesus breaks bread with "sinners" and tax collectors, two groups of people who the upright religious Jews shunned as being impure, it is a signal that he honors them and wants to spend time with them.

The religious purists did not understand that; in fact, they highly disapproved of such behavior. It destroyed the protocol, the system they had lived by for ages. I wonder if we have come very far from that system today. We don't actually codify socially acceptable behavior, but defy it and see what happens

Most churches I attend try to be inclusive of all sorts and conditions of people, but when a street person ambles in and sits in a pew, you can feel the tension rise. You never know what a person like that might do. I know of a church that provides a delicious Sunday breakfast to homeless people, but the meal is served very early in the morning, so all the street people are gone before most of the congregation comes to worship. Like so many things each of us does, the timing of the meal may be unconscious.

There certainly are risks involved when we "eat" with "tax collectors and sinners," but if Jesus is our model, perhaps we need to re-evaluate our response to table fellowship with people who are NOT welcome at other tables. Lent is a good time to reflect on some things we do, probably unconsciously, to separate ourselves from people who are different from us.

Help us, O God, to encounter other people with open minds and hearts, and hands. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.