07.01.02 Lk. 5:29-30; Mt. 9:12-13 (See also Mk. 2:15-17)
EATING WITH SINNERS
Lk. 29 Then Levi hosted a grand banquet for Him at his house. Now there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were guests with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to His disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Mt. 12 But when He heard this, He said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The leading Pharisees taught that ritual purity was essential in order to have a close relationship with God. This was taught from birth to the grave. But to remain pure there were a list of daily activities one had to perform and personal associations that had to be avoided whenever possible. For example, to eat a meal with someone was perceived as agreeing with his or her lifestyle. The Oral Law taught that “If three ate together, they must say Common Grace.” For this reason, His critics could not understand how it was possible for a righteous man to pray to God with unrighteous men, and then eat with them.
“The Pharisees and their scribes.” The reading of the Law in local synagogues was done by scribes who were generally Pharisees, which is why most people were closely aligned to the Pharisees. The people felt comfortable because the scribes had studied the Written and Oral laws more than any other religious sect. Since the Pharisees and their scribes were often the teachers in local synagogues and schools, they naturally questioned Jesus.
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” It is interesting that the religious leaders asked this question of the disciples, because Matthew, who was with Jesus, was a former tax collector – one despised by these same leaders. Nonetheless, it was common practice to eat only with those one shared common values and appreciation. The classic example is the prophet Daniel’s refusal to eat with the king of Babylon for three reasons:
- Eating involved prayer before and after every meal. The issue was how a righteous man could pray to God with pagans and sinners who broke nearly every imaginable law of God.
- Eating with someone carried a strong implication of an approval of their lifestyle and what that person believed. Dining was a form of fellowship. Denial of fellowship meant disagreement with someone. This was demonstrated by Daniel when he refused to eat with his king, even though he was a prisoner. Eating with the king meant Daniel was in agreement with him on a wide range of issues, including those of religious merit.
- Eating the king’s food would have caused Daniel to defile himself (Dan. 1:8) because the food was not kosher.
Daniel obviously remained strong to his Hebrew faith. While he studied and learned of Babylonian ways, he did not accept or practice them. As to first century religious leaders, they avoided eating with tax collectors and sinners. The term sinners had several definitions, especially when related to women.
- It is generally assumed that prostitution was the only kind of “occupation” a woman could have had that would have given her that social stigma. This has been promoted by some Jewish and Christian writers who suggest that no other kind of activity would have produced the title of sinner other than a career prostitute. However….
- A sinner could have been a woman who had her hair uncovered in public. Women always had their hair covered from the moment they were betrothed.
- However, she could simply have been a noble woman from one of the wealthy families who recognized her sinful nature. The Pharisees also defined a sinner as anyone who did not conform to their legalistic rituals, which included numerous prayers and washings throughout the day. The ultra-strict Pharisees even considered anyone who touched a Roman or Greek coin as filthy because he violated the command against graven images.
It was a common belief that the messiah would never associate with sinners of any kind because they would defile Him. What they overlooked was that every time Jesus ate with them, He revealed the Kingdom of God. It was not that Jesus accepted their lifestyle, but rather, He was willing to forgive them. This is vividly illustrated in John’s revelation of Jesus,
19As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. 20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.
To the leading Pharisees, one who committed adultery was just as much of a sinner as the person who failed to wash his hands in a particular fashion and for the required number of times prior to eating.
“I didn’t come to call the righteous.” Did Jesus really die for everyone, including these self-righteous Pharisees? Of course He did. This comment was one of sarcasm, because the righteousness of the Pharisees was entirely a human effort.
. Mishnah, Barakoth 7.1.
. Cited from Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 92.
. See “Defile” in Appendix 26.
. Blomberg, “The Authenticity and Significance of Jesus’ Table Fellowship with Sinners.” 232-33.
. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 249-51; Compare with Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.23, and the complete section of Mishnah, Ketubbat, 6.6; Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:251.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 248; See also 02.01.14 “Pharisees.”
. Spangler and Tverberg, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. 139-1142.