Sunday’s sermon was from Mark 2:13-17, when Jesus found the tax collector Levi and said “Follow me.” Jesus was then criticized by the scribes for eating with Levi and his tax collector and sinner friends. I want to think about one aspect—not the calling, but the eating.
Eating. It’s a way of being with people in a special way. In Jesus’ day, you shared a meal with your relatives, your friends, your neighbors, or when you were playing host. Meals were where you spent hours talking, listening, laughing, sharing. Since you shared a common dish with people, you didn’t want to eat with anyone who made you uncomfortable. And, you certainly didn’t eat with people who were unclean (like Jesus’ new “taxing and sinning” friends) because then you became unclean yourself.
One VPCer who knows how much I like to cook (and eat!) gave me a book entitled My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals, by Melanie Dunea. Chefs play a game, she says, where they imagine they only have one meal left, and fantasize about whom they’d invite and what they would eat. Most said they’d invite loved ones—family and close friends—to dinner. Others would invite famous people from the past or present: political or religious figures, or food gurus. There was a diversity in what they would eat, from simple comfort food to the most luxurious and complicated of meals. And some talked about what they’d discuss.
Have you ever imagined who (living or dead) you’d really like to share a meal with? Someone from the Bible? A deceased relative? A hero? Someone you haven’t seen in forever? What would you talk about? Would you ask about their lives, their joys and sorrows, challenges they faced? Would you want to tell them about your life, your joys and sorrows, challenges you face? Would you seek their advice? Would you just sit quietly, enjoying the food and their company?
Jesus was criticized for eating with. Here he ate, not with the famous, religious leaders, or those who were “acceptable society” for a rabbi. Levi and his tax collector friends (not to mention the sinners) weren’t exactly hero quality. They were at or near the bottom of the moral ladder, because of the way tax collectors made money off the backs of their neighbors. I wonder what they all talked about.
We are all formed by our relationships, among other things. The positive relationships have positive effects. The negative ones can have their effects, too. Has that been your experience? Have you sometimes felt as though you wish you could sit down and talk with the other person in your troubled relationships? Or would you avoid them like the plague?
A good therapeutic practice can be to write a letter (that will never be sent) to a person who has harmed you. Even if the person has died, it can be a helpful exercise to say the things you need to say, to put them down on paper prayerfully and before God. Sometimes it’s best to leave the letter in the drawer and go back to it on occasion, maybe deleting or revising. Sometimes, the writing is enough and the letter can be destroyed, taking with it the difficult emotions it involves.
So, I’m wondering: what if you had a meal with someone you never really wanted to see again? These may be the tax collectors and sinners of your experience. They are the ones you’d just as soon Jesus didn’t hang out with, often with good reason. They are the unclean, and you feel as though your contact with them makes you unclean as well. It could be someone who hurt you. A relative who was difficult. A friend who’s no longer a friend because of their actions or words. An ex-spouse. A parent or child who left without saying goodbye or without good reason. A coworker or boss who made strides by walking over you. Maybe that person is still living, maybe not. Maybe you’ve tried to reconcile, maybe not.
Now, imagine yourself sitting down to eat a meal with this person. What would you ask? What would you talk about? Would you bring up the past? Tell how you have been hurt? Tell how you have moved on? Ask how they are doing? Seek advice? Just spend time together? Or would you fuss at Jesus for agreeing to sit down with them?
Maybe this imaginary meal would be a good spiritual exercise. Think about what you’d do, what you’d say, what it would be like. Jesus is at the table with all of you, and will help keep the conversation going. We become “clean” when we recognize that no one is “unclean” in God’s eyes. Then we move on, with God’s help.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2009