29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 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?”
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” 33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
Eating and learning together have always gone hand, in hand. The colleges of Oxford and Cambridge and other ancient universities were built around a chapel and a dining hall: food and prayer lay at the heart of the academic community and, to some extent, still do today. If we travel further into the past, we find scholars dining in what became known as a symposium. The word is still used today but in a limited sense of its full meaning. In classical Greek culture, a symposium was a meal at which the diners reclined on couches while eating and drinking. Conversation, discussion, even heated argument were integral parts of a symposium.
When we read of Jesus dining with people such as Levi or Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), we see that they provided great teaching opportunities. Levi invites Jesus to a symposium in his house and, after Zacchaeus has decided to follow him, Jesus invites himself to his house, not simply to eat but to teach.
The Pharisees clearly did not like that kind of thing: they thought that Jesus should not go near these impromptu times at which food is eaten, wine is drunk and discussion arises. Their opinion is that Jesus and his entourage should fast in the face of such festivities. They would rather retreat to a moralistic high ground than join in. But such high ground is remote and barren and there is nothing to be achieved by being there. Jesus did not care what the scribes and Pharisees thought of his actions or his methods of teaching: the kingdom of God justified his method.
If Jesus were with us today, he would be evangelising in pubs and bars. As Robert J. Karris puts it:
‘In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming home from a meal… Jesus got himself killed because of the way he ate.,
Lord of everywhere, be present in all our meals as teacher, judge and friend. Give us courage to dine with strangers and share with them the gospel of salvation Amen