Dining is much more than the act of eating food. When I think of some of the greatest meals I have had in the last 10 years, I remember more details concerning the people I was with than I do the food we had to eat. This was especially true during New Testament times. A feast wasn’t a meal. It was an event.
This is my second post in the series “Dining with Jesus.” Throughout this series, I will be taking a closer look at the 10 meals we find with Jesus throughout the Gospel of Luke. This week I want to focus on the feast Levi has for Jesus after being called to give up his career as a tax collector and follow Jesus. The story can be read in Luke 5:27-32. Before discussing this specific feast, we need to address what was going on before Levi is called to follow Jesus.
There are three key things Jesus does throughout Luke chapter five that need our attention. Jesus heals a man in Luke 5:12-16, making him ceremonially clean. He then heals a man in Luke 5:24-25, forgiving him of his sins. Thirdly, Jesus invites others to follow Him as we see here with Levi, who is later given the name Matthew. We read each of these events, and then Luke describes the feast that is thrown for Jesus in very little detail.
One of the first things we need to focus on is who was in attendance at this feast. The tax collectors and sinners had been invited to recline at the table and partake in the feast. Then, Luke mentions the Pharisees and scribes, and I think this is important. As I mentioned earlier, dinner was much more than eating a meal.
It was about the conversation. Relationships are formed and deepened over a meal. You wouldn’t simply eat food together. You would get to know the other person, appreciating their company. You would learn about the other people and get to know them on a personal level. There would be people who were invited to take part in the meal. After everyone was finished eating, even more people would be invited to hear someone speak or be entertained.
I think that is what is happening here. The tax collectors and sinners were invited to the personal encounter while reclining at the table. The Pharisees and their scribes had simply been invited to hear Jesus speak after Levi’s close friends had finished their meal. There obviously would have been some jealousy. Once the Pharisees start mumbling about this, Jesus informs them, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” This leads to the point I really want to touch on today.
A Meal that Creates Transformation
You notice Levi was at his booth collecting taxes, Jesus called him to follow, and then we read about this feast. This is important. Jesus doesn’t tell Levi to get his act together, then he will have a shot at becoming Matthew. Jesus met Levi exactly where he was currently at.
This is no different with us today. You don’t need to go to church for 12 consecutive Sundays to qualify for following Jesus. You aren’t required to memorize the Bible, or even become familiar with it, for that matter. Regardless of where you are, Jesus has an invitation for you to follow Him. Life change and transformation are part of the journey, not a requirement to make a start.
Levi begins following Jesus, and then we read about the feast. Keep in mind. Dining isn’t simply sharing a meal. It’s all about building a relationship with the people you are eating with. As soon as we start following our Lord and Savior, we can begin building this relationship with Him. The more time we spend getting to know Jesus, the more we are dining with Him, the more our hearts and minds begin transforming.
That being said, none of this will happen until we are willing to recline at the table with Him. We can’t expect to live like Jesus did until we get to know who He is. Think about it this way. You wouldn’t go on one date to eat dinner with someone and then ask them to marry you. You would go on several dinner dates, getting to know them better and better with each meal. Getting to know Jesus isn’t a one-meal event. It’s a process that involves reclining at the table with Him during many feasts.
Repentance That Comes from the Heart
Let’s go back to the passage we’re using today for just a second. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees wasn’t that He comes to call sinners to dinner. Jesus said He came to call sinners to repentance. While our actions alone are never going to be enough to save us, once you begin following Jesus, your actions matter. They matter a lot.
Getting to know Jesus isn’t a one-time event. The same thing can be said about repentance. As a follower of Christ, repentance is a part of our daily lives. Here’s the thing. Repentance isn’t something we do to avoid going to hell. We repent of our sins as a response to God’s love for us. There is a difference between the two.
When your goal is to avoid hell, your heart isn’t involved. As children, each of us had at least a couple of rules we followed, simply to avoid getting in trouble. We also had rules we followed because we loved our parents and wanted to show them obedience was important. Obeying wasn’t something we did to earn a prize or reward. It was how we responded to love.
This is precisely how we are to respond to God. The only reason we are able to love Him is because of His great love for us. His grace and mercy aren’t permission to live however we want. They are invitations to follow Him, changing who we are from the inside out.
Becoming a New Vessel
Very seldom is change easy. More often than not, change requires time, sacrifice, and commitment. The best example I have of this is buying a new pair of shoes. You know they are going to be more comfortable than the ones you already have. They look newer and are going to feel better. Still, until you get used to wearing the new shoes, they can be uncomfortable.
Repentance and living a new life can be the same. Old habits have to be broken. There will usually be people, places, and things that we have to distance ourselves from, at least for a while. As uncomfortable as this can be, we have to stay committed to following Jesus.
I’ll be honest, living a life based on faith isn’t always easy. Things can get complicated at times. Still, we have to keep our focus on God and His will for us. Very rarely will Jesus call you to the comfortable. That would defeat the whole purpose of faith.
Here’s the thing. The more uncomfortable repentance, our faith, and following Jesus makes us, the more peace we find when we spend time reclining at the table with Him. These are the feasts we spend our lives cherishing.