By Mandy Smith
Jesus often caused a stir, and it’s surprising how often food was at the center of things. Whom he ate with caused controversy. When he ate and what he ate upset the religious leaders who seemed to be watching his every move.
Mark 2 provides various examples. First the Pharisees judge Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. And Jesus simply replies, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 17).
Then the Pharisees get upset with Jesus because he doesn’t fast like John’s disciples. And Jesus answers: “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them” (v. 19).
These Pharisees seem to follow Jesus and watch his every move; they complain because Jesus and his disciples pick some heads of grain as they walk through grainfields, which these religious leaders believe is unlawful on the Sabbath. Jesus replies, in part, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (v. 28).
Food had huge significance in Jewish culture. The people paid a lot of attention to whom they ate with, what they ate, and when they ate. Jesus saw significance in these things as well, but his food decisions also provided enlightenment. Instead of eating only with select people, he welcomed all, even those who were considered unrighteous. Instead of always fasting, he also celebrated. And he knew that, as much as the Father had instituted laws about Sabbath, he himself was Lord of all things.
This Supper we celebrate today is a way to remember the ways Jesus approached eating.
He welcomes all to this meal, even those who believe they’re too sinful. Are we willing to receive God’s welcome even if we feel unrighteous? Are we longing for those we consider unrighteous to join this meal with us?
He wants us to eat this meal to celebrate that he is with us. Even when other parts of our lives might be hard, even when God feels far away, we can choose to believe his promise of his presence by taking part in this meal.
And we remember that he is Lord over all things. Lord Jesus is here and he welcomes all.
Originally from Australia, Mandy Smith is pastor of University Christian Church, a campus and neighborhood congregation with its own fair-trade café in Cincinnati. She is the author of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry.