Joshua 5:9a, 10–12
2 Corinthians 5:17–21
Luke 15:1–3, 11–32
Jesus was a prophet. The reading of Luke’s gospel makes this clear. As a prophet, Jesus was the kind of person who liked to challenge your way of thinking. If you thought reality was to be seen this way, he was almost certain to have another. What made it hard was that Jesus was not talking about opinion. Jesus claimed that his way of looking at things and his actions were none other than God’s way of seeing things and God’s way of acting in the world and with its people. What Jesus was challenging then and today was how God was to be understood and where he was to be experienced.
The action that the prophet Jesus offers us today is that of eating a meal. But the revealing part of this meal is not the kind of food but the kind of people he eats it with. Jesus eats with sinners. Jesus eats with those at the edge, those ‘not worthy.’
When we eat with someone, we do more than share in the food he or she has prepared for us. The food is more than just a bodily necessity that satisfies hunger. This shared food is really a symbol for lives shared. To eat with someone means to make yourself open to the other person. In sharing a meal with someone, you are involving yourself in communion. Not only do you share yourself with other people, but they are sharing themselves with you. Communion is a two way process. There is risk and delight on both sides.
When Jesus eats with sinners, as Luke tells us today, this means he is identifying with them. Not only is he sharing his life of forgiveness with them, but he is involving himself in their life of sin. In sharing a meal with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus makes a statement about who God is and how he wants to be. Jesus is revealing the way in which God loves us. What Jesus is saying in his simple act of eating is that God’s rightful place is at the table of sinful human kind. Our God is a God who invites humanity to a new way of life by sitting down at table with us and sharing in our food. The person we share our food with brings with him or her a new way of seeing ourselves, of accepting ourselves. When Jesus sits with sinners, he brings a new way of life with him. Accepting Jesus at the table means that the sinner leaves himself or herself open to the way of life that Jesus offers. In the act of eating with sinners, Jesus not only shares in the life of the sinner at the table but the sinner shares in the way of life that God is offering in Jesus. Food is shared, yes, but in the food lives are shared, are given over one to another.
Jesus tells a story, a parable, to illustrate his point. We like to see ourselves as the youngest son who comes to his senses when he hits bottom (eating with the pigs is pretty much the bottom).We take our cue of who God is by focusing on the loving father. We make sure that we have this father run down the road to greet us. The welcome of the father captures our emotions. But that is not the clincher of the story. Jesus does more than welcome sinners; he eats with them. The father in the parable does more than embrace and kiss his younger son after he has wasted his inheritance. He wants a meal to celebrate with him and for him.
It is not enough for the younger son to say, “I’m sorry.” The father must have a meal before the reconciliation is complete. All is not healed between father and son until the fattened calf is prepared and the music and dancing begin. For Jesus, the essence of conversion or repentance was accepting a God who would eat with the sinner and in this eating offer and celebrate a new way of life. The father is not satisfied until the younger son accepts from his father a meal and so opens the way to a new life.
You see, the younger son wanted to be treated by his father as a hired worker. He wanted to give up his identity as son and eat with the workers. But the father refuses to allow the younger son to give up his identity. And to make his point, he will have a meal worthy of a son.
These are not actions and stories from the past. This act of God eating with sinners and sinners finding a new identity through this God who shares a meal with them is happening right now. Right now we are hearing the story about a God who risks all to eat with his sinful people. Very soon now the meal will become a reality for us too. The Risen Jesus will offer us food again. He does not offer us a meal because we are worthy or pure or clean or have got our lives straightened out. He offers us food because we have heard of him and come to listen to him; he offers us a simple meal because he knows we are sinners struggling to find our way. Jesus joins our meal and transforms it so that when we are through eating we will be a new people with a new identity in him. Or as Paul says today, we will be a new creation. This very morning God is not only embracing us and holding us as his own, he is offering us a meal that brings him and us together in the intimacy that sharing food holds within it. On the way to death, to walk into the depths of sin, Jesus leaves us a meal with him not because we are his best followers. Better he leaves us this meal so that we will remember that when we are lost, broken, estranged, afraid and without identity, he is there in the sharing of bread and wine to say you are still children of God, human beings in his image.
If we find ourselves among those broken people, those sinners, the dissipated younger son, even perhaps the self-righteous older son, then the Eucharist is for us. Jesus comes to the table. To us Jesus says, “I am not afraid to share and live your brokenness, your death. I will eat your food. And you, take my food, and find in it the way to wholeness, the way of love, the way of healing. When we eat together in this way, then truly God and humanity are made whole. This is why I have come: that we, the Father, the Son and all the Father’s children, may eat together and sing and dance to the original rhythm of love and fidelity.”
Prior, Fr. Joel Macul, OSB