“Jesus doesn’t want to eat with you”
I was sitting in the front row of Missions Conference one year when a speaker said something a little different. He said Jesus didn’t want to eat with the people in the front, but with the ‘sinners in the balcony’. As a young student who loved Jesus, I was frustrated. I wrote down in my notes from that session:
He thinks that Jesus would sit in the balcony, not with the people in the front who are being the Marys. This guy makes me feel unloved by Christ. He’s saying that Jesus isn’t in the church, he’s in the bar. That’s limiting the power of Christ. It’s not that he’s not saying anything good and true, but he is bashing people who are fired up for Jesus. The issue I have with him is that he’s saying that Jesus loves some people more than others.
I thought Jesus loved me less because I sat in the front. Maybe I should sin more for Jesus to love me more? Why should I want to know Jesus if he only cares about those who don’t pursue him? Jesus does some strange things with strange people, but surly this wasn’t one of those, was it?
The question of Jesus’ table fellowship has always been on my mind. Who would Jesus have a dinner party with? I thought maybe Scripture might give a clear answer, so I began looking at who Jesus interacted with, trying to find some sort of criteria.
Righteous and Unrighteous
Jesus associated with the righteous and the religious rulers more frequently than we like to admit. As a child, he sat with the religious leaders, listening to them and asking questions (Luke 2:46-49). He even went to dinner parties held by Pharisees! (Luke 7, 11) And we can’t forget about Nicodemus who meets Jesus at night (John 3). Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, back to life in the synoptic gospels.
Others were “righteous” or “devout” Jews. Joseph of Arimathea is described as “righteous” (Luke 23:50). Simeon was called a “devout” Jew (Luke 2:25). Jesus’ parents performed what the Law required of them (Luke 2:39). Paul was a strict observer of the Law as well. Mary and Martha were good friends of Jesus and they were practicing Jews (John 11). Jesus seemed willing to eat and dine with those who were considered “righteous” or obeyed the Law.
Jesus also ate with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees continually questioned why he ate with sinners, and Jesus responded that he came to call the sinners, not the righteous (Matthew 9:10-13). He ate with Zacchaeus, a notorious tax collector (Luke 19:5), and called another, Matthew, to be his disciple. Even prostitutes interrupted his meals to clean his feet. Jesus was not afraid to associate with these people.
Both the righteous and the sinner are on Jesus’ guest list. But surly there’s some other criteria.
Seekers and Sought
Perhaps Jesus ate only with those who sought him out. Whenever he ate with the Pharisees, they were the ones inviting him. Throughout the gospels, people come to Jesus, not the other way around. Mary and Martha came to him with their requests. People seeking healing like Blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-48), Jarius, and others seek Jesus out.
Yet Jesus also seeks other out. He sought out the disciples by name. He initiates the conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4), the lame man (John 5), and the blind man (John 9). It isn’t often, but he does seek out individuals. It seems that seeking Jesus isn’t a condition of being on the list either.
Jews and Gentiles
Perhaps only Jews are invited. Jesus seemingly passes over the Greeks’ request to meet him (John 12:20). Jesus makes the Gentiles a target for contempt (Matthew 5:47; 6:7,32; 20:25). He Orders the disciples to not share the Gospel with Gentiles on their missionary journeys (Matthew 10:5). Jesus claims he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:26). Even when Jesus interacts with Gentiles like Pilate, they reject him.
However, even the dogs get scraps from the master’s table. The Canaanite woman pleads for the “scraps” of Jesus ministry to heal her demon possessed daughter (Matthew 12:22-28). Jesus is amazed at her faith and heals her daughter. And this isn’t the only Gentile Jesus interacts with. He talks with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-45), heal’s the official’s son (John 4:46-54), and the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10). Jesus predicts that the disciples will be witnesses to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:18) as he himself is their hope (Matthew 12:18-21, Luke 2:32). While Jesus ministry may not have been to the Gentiles while on earth directly, they certainly got invited to the party.
Rejectors and Acceptors
Perhaps Jesus only invited those who would accept him. Looking at the examples above, it’s not hard to see that not everyone invited accepted him. The Samaritan woman and the blind man accept Jesus, but the lame man rejects him along with many of the Pharisees. Both the righteous and the unrighteous reject him , along with seekers/sought and Jews/Gentiles. It seems that we’ve run into another dead end.
The Dinner Party
The dinner party has come, but who’s been invited? Perhaps if we look at the dinner party itself, we will find out.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
It seems that the requisite for being invited to the party is… nothing! The good and the bad, all those who could be found are invited. There is an order to the invitations (Jews/Gentiles or Church/non-Church?), but in the end, all are called to come to the wedding feast (Christ and his bride the Church?).
But while all are invited, there are two rules of etiquette. First, you must come to the party. Those who are invited but don’t come are destroyed. Rejecting Jesus’ invitation is, ultimately, fatal. Second, you must be in proper attire. If you don’t have the right attire, it would be provided for you by the host, so the man had no excuse to not wear it. What specifically the garment refers to is a complex. Spurgeon put it this way:
Many a time the question has been asked: “What was the wedding garment?” It is a question which need not be curiously pried into. So many answers have been given that I conclude that if our Saviour had intended any one specific thing he would have expressed himself more plainly, so that we would have been able, without so much theological disputing, to have understood what he meant. It seems to me that our Lord intended much more than any one thing. The guests were bidden to come to the wedding to show their respect to the king and prince; some would not come at all, and so showed their sedition; this man came, and when he heard the regulation, that a certain garment should be put on, comely in appearance and suitable for the occasion, he determined that he would not wear it. In this act of rebellion, he went as far in opposition as they did who would not come at all, and he went a little further, for in the very presence of the guests and of the king he dared to declare his disloyalty and contempt.
It was his rejection to honor the king that got him kicked out, not his goodness or badness or any status. It was his refusal to put on the wedding clothes that were offered and expected of him to wear.
Desserts are those sweet things we enjoy at the end of the meal (or sometimes substitute for a meal). They are the things we take away, the final flavor as we leave, and there are certainly a few desserts at this dinner party.
Jesus’ dinner party is for sinners, righteous or not.
We continually argue if Jesus invites”church people” or “sinners”. The answer is, he invites both. Certainly, there is a difference between the believer and the non-believer (justification, sanctification, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to name a few), but we are all still sinners. I recently read an article about using the word “sinner” to describe those who are saved, but are practicing sin. The author claims that this creates an “Us versus Them” mentality, which it does, if we do not call ourselves and others sinner as well. Neglecting to do so divides the church into saints and sinners. We must not divide the church but rather remember that we are all one dinner party, come to celebrate the bridegroom and his bride.
Jesus requires proper attire.
We are meant to act a certain way. That may not look like the what the American Church has made it. Like Spurgeon said, Jesus is not specific about what the proper attire is. He simply says guests are required to wear it. We can look at other passages to see what the Lord requires of us, but there is no cookie-cutter approach to Christian character and virtue. The dinner party would be bland if we were all to be identical in character. I’m not accepting sin, but I am saying that not everyone will be the same.
Jesus has a strange invitation list for his dinner party, and strange standards of etiquette . However you feel about his list, remember that it is HIS to make, not ours. We cannot change whom he invites, nor should we want to. Instead, we should be focusing on building up the fellowship that happens around the table.
The speaker at Missions Conference was right… and wrong. Jesus invites all of us, not just ‘sinners’ and not just ‘saints’. We are all called to come have a dinner party with Jesus.