“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matthew 9:10-11, NIV)
During the first century of Christianity, a key value of the Roman Empire was hospitality; however, it was a rather “closed” hospitality. It was to be extended primarily to those in the same family and the same social class.
First century Jewish people were called to a higher standard, but certain Jewish laws regarding what was considered clean and unclean severely limited the kind of interaction an observant Jew could have with a Gentile.
Jesus took a position that was radically different from these two cultural standards, drastically altering the social norms in regard to hospitality. He was bold about allowing women to be counted as His disciples (something not normative for Jewish teachers of His day). He interacted with Gentiles freely, and He even allowed Himself to be a guest in the home of “tax collectors and sinners,” a designation given to those who were deemed as traitors of their faith, heritage, and community.
Furthermore, the radical fellowship in which Jesus participated was often more than casual conversation. Jesus taught, interacted with, and shared meals with those who would otherwise, due to social conventions, not be considered worthy of His attention.
Of course, in hindsight, we recognize why Jesus did this.
His acts of fellowship were clear and tangible reminders of the boundary-breaking love of God.
Through the fellowship of Jesus, God demonstrates that all are welcome at His table and in His presence.
The disciples of Jesus received the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) as more than a call to share a message. It was a call to the same kind of radical fellowship with lost people—regardless of their race or social background—that Jesus Himself demonstrated in His earthly ministry. In Acts 2 and beyond, the Church becomes the embodied reality of that fellowship of Jesus.
Another key reminder of this radical fellowship comes in the form of the Lord’s Supper. The traditional term for this shared meal, “eucharist,” is from the Greek term eucharisto, which means “thanksgiving.” In this simple meal, we are reminded how blessed and thankful we are that God has deemed us worthy to be called into fellowship with Him. The result of this focused gathering around the Lord’s table is the extension of God’s radical hospitality to others.
This week, let us pray that we extend Christ’s message to all people in the radical hospitality modelled by Christ.
Prayer for the Week:
Heavenly Father, thank you for including us in Your plan of salvation. Thank you for inviting us to fellowship together in the presence of Your Son around Your table of redemption. Allow us to depart from our times of worship in Spirit-led mission to bring Your radical love and hospitality to the whole world for whom Christ died. In His name. Amen.
Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.
Written for Coffee Break with Holiness Today