Saturdays have never really been a day for our family to sleep in.
Between sports, church life, hiking trips, and other adventures, we are typically up and moving on Saturdays. However, this does not prevent a protest from the kiddos, especially when we have to get up really early on a Saturday.
My previous parish served one Saturday morning per month with a ministry called Feed Thy Neighbor hosted at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Greenville, SC. Episcopal parishes in Greenville partner together in a joint ministry to provide breakfast on Saturdays to the homeless and working poor. Feed Thy Neighbor had two shifts, and the food prep shift required us to be up at 5:30am. The second shift came in for cleanup. The team of roughly 7-8 volunteers would prepare eggs, biscuits, sausage, and a huge pot of grits for roughly 100 people. Our team was always a mix of families, singles, and retirees, and it was a joyful, fun kitchen.
On one particular Saturday, my son Jordan was asked to greet at the door, handing out meal tickets. Jordan spent the whole morning in conversation with many of these new friends. One of the regulars was an older gentleman who always came dressed in a tie and blazer. Whether he was talkative by nature or just needed someone to talk to that morning, he talked Jordan’s ear off. I could hear their laughter from the kitchen.
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
The Gospel passage for today, the Feast of St. Matthew, is Matthew 9:9-13. Jesus calls Matthew, “Follow me.” Matthew drops everything and follows immediately. Quickly the story shifts, and we find Jesus eating dinner with tax collectors and sinners.
The Pharisees are trying to call out Jesus for hanging with a less than respectable crowd. Publicans, like Matthew, were Jews who collaborated with the Roman Empire, collecting taxes and such, and they were particularly detested. They were so abhorred and outcast that many parents would not allow marriage into a family of which a publican was even a member. Someone like Matthew would cast a shadow, a stain, on the rest of the family.
Jesus sees people differently, though. Jesus saw past the circumstances of a person and saw the person for who they truly were: beloved and bearing the image and likeness of God. And if Jesus truly sees each person in that way, what option does Jesus have but to eat with sinners? When Jesus sits down for dinner with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus performs a healing miracle, much like the healings of the paralytic, the hemorrhaging woman, blind Bartimaeus, and the ten lepers. True healing is about more than the physical. The deeper healing that Jesus brings about draws them back into community and relationship.
In some ways, this is a foreshadowing of the dinner at Emmaus. When we sit down and eat with one another, break bread together, Jesus is revealed to us. When we sit down and eat with one another, we are sharing a meal with Jesus. We participate in the reconciling work of Jesus. When we share a meal, we participate in the healing work of Jesus. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
Jesus closes with a stunning statement: “…‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Is this exclusionary? Or is it an invitation to the table? Recognizing our brokenness, our necessary response to God’s mercy is to hear the invitation of Jesus, “Follow me.” We are healed ourselves when we participate in the healing work of Jesus.
When volunteering at a soup kitchen, food bank or similar ministry of mercy, age appropriate safety measures should and must be taken, but these are ministries that are perfectly accessible to families. Ministries such as Feed Thy Neighbor are powerful and transformative for young people and families. God is broken open and revealed to us in new and different ways. Our fear and judgment of the other withers, and we develop a greater capacity for compassion and grace.
I once read that we learn to love God by loving other people. One way we learn to love another is by sharing a meal with them. Whether at a soup kitchen or at a dinner party, at dinner with the church youth group or at the table of the Eucharist, we partner with and fully experience God’s healing when we break bread together.
My prayer this Feast of St. Matthew is that we will always listen for and respond to the invitation of Jesus: Follow me.
[Image Credit: The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]
Who would you find it difficult to share a meal with?
Has Jesus been revealed to you through a meal with others?
Have you experienced God’s healing through serving others?
How could you partner with God’s healing work in the world?