Community in Christ – Defined by the Table

As seen in the Gospel of Matthew

 

When you say, “I choose to not break bread with that person,” you are also saying, “I choose to not break bread with Christ.” For Christ chose to break bread with all people, associated and identified with the least, the lowest, the lost. James and John had moments of utter arrogance and selfishness. Judas battled the temptation to steal from his companions. Matthew had been a thief through graft as a tax collector. Look at the sorts of folks Jesus joined at a dinner table –

 

Matthew 9:

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

 

Matthew 11:

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

 

 

We, as respectable people, might be tempted to gloss over these stories, not really listening what Matthew and Jesus both say about the company Jesus keeps and how he behaves. Let us be clear here – Jesus got a very bad reputation because of his circle of acquaintances and friends. As he’s walking down the street, people whisper about him from the sidewalks and shop doorways. He’s saddened by people’s hardened hearts, but not deterred from his calling. He came to ‘call not the righteous but sinners (Mt 9:13). In Luke’s story of Jesus’ ministry we have a story of another tax collector, this time Zacchaeus. At the end of this story Jesus says, “I came to seek and to save those who are lost (19:1-10).

 


Only a few times does Jesus come right out and say, “This is why I have come.”

 

  • To proclaim the message – (Mk 1:38)
  • To fulfill the law and prophets – (Mt 5:17)
  • To bring a sword and division – (Mt 10:34)
  • To do the will of my Father – (Jn 6:42)
  • To bring light shining into darkness (John 12:46)
  • That you might have life – (John 10:10)

 

Think about this list of six things Jesus claims as his purpose for leaving heaven and coming to earth. Do God’s will. Fulfill God’s teachings. Proclaim God’s message. Bring God’s light. Give God’s life. AND then, there it is – to bring a sword and division. That doesn’t sound like the God we want to follow and share, does it? We want God to bridge chasms and heal conflicts, not bring sword and division. Yet the saying is true, and we see throughout Jesus’ ministry, and indeed throughout church history, sword and division in the name of Jesus.

 

One way to hear this teaching is this: you can’t please everyone, no matter what you do – so do what is right. Though we are at risk of arrogance, pride and vain-glory, we should seek to know and proclaim the truth as we understand it, realizing that there may be conflict along the way with those who disagree.

But its not just conflict for conflict sake. Nor does the presence of adversaries prove one right. Jesus’ adversaries were those who thought themselves worthy of God’s love and grace while others were unworthy, unclean. 

 

Who would you exclude from your table. Who is on your list of “Don’t invite them to dinner?” Perhaps you know the story of the family who hosted a dinner for all their relatives. Once everyone was seated, the mother asked her young son to pray before the meal. The son protested that he didn’t know how, to which the mother replied, “Just say what I say.” So, the boy reverently folded his hands, bowed his head, and somberly repeated, “Dear God, why did I invite all these people?”

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Why indeed. Jesus both hosts and accepts invitations from all manner of ill-repute

folk. It is at the table, even before we come to the cross, that we see, hear and experience the overwhelming redemptive love of God

 

Matthew 26:

17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ ” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. 20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

 

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

 

31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

Think about this guest list. These are people who would never have chosen on their own to sit together. This is no social club of people with similar personalities, jobs, interests, social status or background. You have rich and poor, righteous and unrighteous, simple and sophisticated. So what brings them all together? The grace and love of God made known in Jesus Christ. They are reconciled by God through Christ, all of their divisions receding to the background. They do not become clones of one another or of Jesus.  Their differences are not erased. Rather, God’s love binds them through and in spite of their differences. The community of Christ defined at the table is one that brings people together not of their own desires or inclinations, but through God’s power. It is not a community where people say, “I wonder if I fit in, if there is anyone here like me.” Rather, those already present, starting with Jesus, say, “Welcome everyone! There is a place for you at this table if you want it.”

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