Eating with the Physician
The Pharisees were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:30-31 (NRSV)
Jesus says he’s come to call sinners to repentance. But there’s no sign in this passage that he’s thinking, “Oh, good, I can bag some souls at supper!” There’s no judgment, altar call, breast-beating. The only people he actively corrects are the righteous.
Jesus knows that tax collectors aren’t morally well. He also knows that sick people need healing, not shaming. And the key to healing is company, solidarity, friendship, intimate presence, like the intimacy of sharing a meal. That’s why he’s there. To be with them. And eat with them.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we understood our presence and sharing of food at the table as a gift to someone who needs to know that their sins do not make them undesirable to Jesus. Or to us.
If we understood others’ presence and sharing as an offer of healing we ourselves badly need.
If we welcomed Jesus into our midst just to be with us, to eat and enjoy life with us, and didn’t turn every occasion with him into a moralistic moment, a lesson to be learned, an obligation to shoulder.
I wonder, too, what it would be like if, when we gather for Communion, there actually were notorious public sinners among us. And I wonder what might need to change in our practice of Communion such that righteous people would be scandalized by it and ask us, incredulously, “Why?”
Call us to repentance, good Jesus, so that we will be happy among tax collectors and sinners, all of us eating and drinking our way to healing; all of us eating and drinking our way to God.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.