stories of summer: table fellowship


june 30, 2019

Luke 5:27-32  After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Tax Collector


Table Fellowship

Tax Collectors:

Place of taxes in imperial domination

Considered collaborationists and extortionists 

Most notorious among the 7 despised classes of people

Continually ritually contaminated: M Toh. 7:6 “If tax gatherers entered a house [all that is within it] becomes unclean.” 


Key Question for Israel – What does it means to be faithful under these circumstances?

Returned from, but continuing in exile (Dt. 17:14-15; Dt. 27:14)

Pharisee’s Response:  Be Holy (Lev. 11:45; 19:1-2; 20:7-8; 22-24)

Holiness was related to staying in the Land (Lev. 20:22-24; 18:24; 25:18) – preserving the holiness of the land was a condition for living in it. 

Holiness as purity and separation from anything impure (613 commands + oral law + separation)

Lev. 15:31 “‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.’”

Impurity/Unholiness is contagious

Application of purity codes for Priest and scrupulous tithing and washing

Table Fellowship:

The survival of the nation depended on purity/tithing laws

A meal was always more than a meal (e.g., Isa. 25:6-8; Zeph. 3:13-15)

Sharing a meal was an expression intimacy, acceptance, and approval

Meals were a microcosm is Israel’s intended structure and future destiny

The two-fold emphasis on tithing and purity posed two practical limitations on table fellowship:

(1) One could never be the guest of a person who was untrustworthy with regard to payment of tithes and preparation of foods 

(2) One could not share a table with people whose presence might defile the meal (e.g., “sinners”)


Holiness through association

Holiness is contagious 

Table Fellowship prior to outward signs of repentance 

Luke 7:36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.

Luke 11:37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table.

Luke 14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

Luke 15:1-2. Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Luke 19:1-10  Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 7:33-35  For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’  But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Glutton and a Drunkard

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him,  his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.  They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.”  Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

Friend of tax collectors and sinners 

To be a friend, Sirach 13.13-18: Be on your guard and very careful, for you are walking about with your own downfall. Every creature loves its like, and every person the neighbor. All living beings associate with their own kind, and people stick close to those like themselves. What does a wolf have in common with a lamb? No more than the sinner has with the devout. 

Separation vs. Association

Jesus scandalized people by who he loved and how he loved them

Grace is transformative (e.g., Luke 19:1-10; Rom. 2:4)