Luke 5:27 And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.
28 And he left all, rose up, and followed him.
29 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.
30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
33 And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?
34 And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?
35 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
Well, if you are following the Lamplight Bible Reading Plan, you will be reading Genesis, Luke and some great Psalms this month (aren't all the Psalms great?). If you are not following any Bible reading plan, why not? It only takes fifteen to twenty minutes each day to read the whole Bible through in one year, and getting into God's word is the only way to find His mind and begin to see things how He sees them. It's called 'sanctification'. Even though we are half-way through January, it is not too late to send off for the Lamplight Plan and start right now. It is also published on the Christian Voice website in the Bible section. You can either catch up with Genesis (two chapters a day) and Luke (one third of a chapter a day), or just start where you are. My prayer is that the whole Christian Voice ministry is grounded in the Word, and that means all of us.
A couple of years ago I found myself wondering which of the Gospels had the most eating and drinking. It isn't a silly question. Eating and drinking are the outward and visible signs of fellowship. In the Hebrew mind, if you are in fellowship with someone, you eat and drink with them. If you are not, you don't. Food and drink, and all the social implications, are a highly important topic, and the way in which Our Lord interacts with people in such fellowship and uses illustrations of eating and drinking will tell us a lot about God Himself.
Hospitality is equally important. Guests are honoured and put first in Middle Eastern thought to this day. T E Lawrence told of how he and two Bedouin friends were out scouting in the desert. They were hungry and food was scarce. Then they chanced on a desert hare and shot it. The hare was just food enough for the three of them, and they set to preparing it in a stew. The pot simmered for some time until the meat was tender and the meal ready to eat. Just as they were about to sit down, one of Lawrence's companions lifted up his eyes and with one word, he made all their hearts sink. "Guests," he said. Sure enough, away on the horizon, three camels were approaching their camp. The three around the pot had no thought of quickly eating their meal and clearing it away. It was incumbent upon them to offer the guests hospitality. Accordingly, they waited for the visitors. There was much greeting, during which Lawrence and his friends asked the guests to eat. "No, we cannot take your food," the Arabs said, politely. "It's OK, we've already eaten," Lawrence replied. Everyone knew that was false, but the custom was to put the guests first, even at one's own expense. That is Middle Eastern hospitality.
So I naturally went to the most Hebrew of the Gospels to look for eating and drinking, and that means to the Gospel of John. John's Gospel starts with the miracle at the wedding feast, and ends with the Lord's beach barbecue. We have the feeding of the five thousand in all the Gospels, of course, and there is much from the Lord Jesus about everlasting food in John. He eats with Martha, Mary and Lazarus and there is the briefest account of the Last Supper. That is about it. The next most Hebrew Gospel is Matthew, but there too I was disappointed. (The text I began with is of Matthew's call, of course, and is recorded in Chapter 9 of his Gospel.)
Incredibly, the Gospel with the most hospitality and fellowship turned out to be the one written by the Gentile convert, Doctor Luke. Despite being the only Evangelist who recorded the Lord's quotation of Deuteronomy 8:3: "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God," (Luke 4:4) Luke describes the eating of an awful lot of bread. Interestingly, in nearly every case, Christ Jesus is the guest, not the host. The accounts are these:
Luke 4:39: Guest of Simon Peter
Luke 5:27-32: Guest of Matthew (Levi)
Luke 7:36-50: Guest of Simon the Pharisee
Luke 9:10-17: Host at the feeding of 5,000
Luke 10:38-42: Guest of Martha
Luke 11:37-54: Guest of another Pharisee
Luke 14:1-6: Guest of yet another Pharisee
Luke 14:7-14: Teaching about humility at a feast
Luke 14:15-24: Parable of the Great Banquet
Luke 15:2: Criticised for eating with sinners
Luke 19:5-10: Guest of Zachaeus (Zaccai)
Luke 22:14-30: Host at the Last Supper
Notice how the Lord, even though He is the guest of Martha, Simon and two other Pharisees, has no compunction about criticising them, gently in the case of Simon and Martha and one of the Pharisees, severely in the house of the other Pharisee. A guest can criticise his host, but not the other way around. It was not the done thing to put a guest to shame. After all, it was your own fault if they were uncouth, for you were the one who had invited them into your house. Simon knew this, and kept his opinion to himself, but the Lord knew what he was thinking and calmly explained matters to him. The other unspoken question was in Luke 14, about healing on the Sabbath, and again, a quiet challenge came from those blessed lips.
The Pharisee in Luke 11 did not get off nearly so lightly. Despite the rules, he marvelled, we read, that the Lord had not ceremonially washed Himself. This was a question going to the root of the difference between the Shammai school of Pharisees, to which he belonged, and the Hillel school, towards which the Lord Himself leaned. Shammai was much for ritual purity, Hillel more for right human relations. The crucial difference comes out in Matthew 5:23-24. Shammai would go to the temple first, Hillel says the relationship with your brother is more important. The Lord rules for Hillel. I shall return to this massive topic at another time. Anyway, maybe the Pharisee couched his amazement in question form, perhaps as in "Rabbi, why do you not wash before the meal like the rest of us?" Even if he thought he was being polite, the Shammai Pharisee was completely out of order. You do not question your guest's manners in Jewish or any polite society, you put up with it and simply don't invite them again. But such was his indignation, the poor man just could not help himself. He had to open his mouth.
In return for his abuse of his position as host, the Pharisee got an earful. All the Lord's pent-up fury at the hypocrisy of the Shammai school came pouring out. Tithing garden herbs, for pity's sake, and all the while forgetting charity, justice "and the love of God." The lawyers too, those who tried to explain the ritual duties of the law to the people, came under fire for not helping with the burdens they were laying on the people.
The Lord Himself is the host in the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:16-24 (Matthew records a different parable, that of the Wedding, in Matt 22). The point of it is that some who think they are righteous, perhaps because they believe they have Abraham for their Father (Luke 3:8), will not recognise the One who bids them to the Great Banquet. They will put themselves out of fellowship with Him, and will see others, Gentiles, the poor and the lame, the broken-hearted, going into the kingdom before them. Isn't it interesting that the excuses given mirror exactly the excuses from battle given in Deuteronomy 20:5-7? What is that saying to us?
Graciously, the Lord Jesus was as happy to share fellowship with sinners as with Pharisees. There are three accounts of His accepting the invitation of Pharisees in Luke's Gospel, and three accounts of saying 'Yes' to sinners, of which the conversions of Levi and Zaccai are the two most significant. Both Pharisees and sinners invite the Lord Jesus in, he accepts, and so puts Himself in fellowship with them. In both cases, but explicitly for the sinners, He does this to seek and save that which was lost, to call those Pharisees and sinners to repentance, and to celebrate their change of heart in answer to that simple demand: "Follow me."
Finally, if the feeding of the five thousand shows the Lord's abundant provision and generosity, what of the final Passover, the Last Supper? Here is the Lord Jesus Christ as divine Host, and no guest is going to criticise his host in that day! As for eating and drinking, what can be more simple expressions of that than bread and wine? This is the same bread and wine prophesied in the account of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18). It is the ultimate expression of the generosity and humility of God. The Almighty Creator of heaven and earth desires fellowship with me, enough to become flesh, to suffer and die so I can be forgiven and my relationship with Him restored. And then, if that were not enough, he invites me to sit down at His table. There are more people in this world who would refuse to have me dine with them than I could shake a stick at. Yet none of that matters, because God Himself says: "You are in communion with me."