As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.  And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9; Matthew 9:10-13 ESV)
A crazy thing happens when you eat meals together. When I think about my life, some of my best memories are those that were spent at the dinner table. Whether that be with family friends as a part of our annual Thanksgiving tradition, or with family in Pennsylvania, or eating with friends while at Lakeside, or even with my family at home, many great memories have occurred around the dinner table.
As I think about my experience around the dinner table, I can’t believe that Jesus was once reprimanded for eating his meals with tax collectors and sinners. This didn’t make any sense to me, until I found out about an interesting aspect about the middle-eastern culture. As a part of their culture, eating a meal with someone was complete acceptance for who they are.
This was in direct opposition to the teaching of the Pharisees. The Pharisees believe in doing certain actions in order to gain acceptance. When Jesus ate a meal with them, he was saying, “I don’t care what the Pharisees tell you that you have to do. I love and accept you just as you are.”
A crazy phenomenon happens when people are accepted just as they are. Carl Rogers, one of the founders of the humanistic movement in psychology, described it as the “unconditional positive regard.” In this, Rogers theorized that the best a therapist could do was to affirm the client regardless of that persons past or anything that they could possibly do. When this acceptance occurs, a healing occurs. People begin to feel safe in their own skin. They begin to feel welcome in the world, and the affects of that can be transformational.
While I don’t believe eating a meal with someone in the American cultures portrays the same acceptance, there is still a ton to be said for eating with people that may not be part of the normal crowd. Why stop at a meal? Spend time with people. Get to know them. Hear their stories. Let them know that you accept them for who they are and in that, comes the transformation from old to new.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9; Matthew 9:10-13 ESV)