Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach at Living Grace church in Dianella. The passage was Matthew 9:9-13 – Matthew’s Party. My major point was to contrast the Pharisees’ ethic or spirituality of purity through separation with Jesus’ ethic or spirituality of redemptive engagement. In particular, Jesus’ table fellowship is understood as a sign of the kingdom in the same way as his miracles are. I used two citations in the sermon that I use also in classes. The first, from Luke Timothy Johnson, is a paraphrase: “The meals are where the magic is.” The second is from Walter Kasper’s Jesus the Christ, which includes the wonderful line, “the shared table is a shared life.” The Lord shares his life with us at the table. We are invited to extend his hospitality to others in similar fashion. The meals are where the magic happens.
In the east, even today, to share a meal with someone is a guarantee of peace, trust, brotherhood and forgiveness; the shared table is a shared life. In Judaism fellowship at table had the special meaning of fellowship in the sight of God…every meal is a sign of the coming eschatological meal and eschatological fellowship with God. Thus, Jesus’ meals with publicans and sinners, too, are not only events on a social level, not only an expression of his unusual humanity and social generosity and his sympathy with those who were despised, but had an even deeper significance. They are an expression of the mission and message of Jesus, anticipatory meals, celebrations of feasts in the end time, in which the community of saints is already being represented. The inclusion of sinners in the community of salvation, achieved in table fellowship is the most meaningful expression of the message of the redeeming love of God…Jesus, in taking sinners into fellowship with him, takes them into fellowship with God. This means that he forgives sins (Kasper, Jesus the Christ, 101-102).