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How To Bless Your Neighbor - Eat With Them

   We are a culture that is serious about our food. We have an entire TV network devoted to it!  We’re so serious that we even have competitions centered on eating! In fact, there are actual “professional” leagues for competitive eating! Now, I imagine plenty of you have seen competitive hotdog eating before, but did you know there are actually lots of different food competitions? Crawfish, Onions, Fruitcake but the nastiest one I found – Mayonnaise.  The record for most mayonnaise consumed in a single sitting is four 32-ounce bowls eaten in 8-minutes – I can’t even imagine that!
   As Americans, we love just about everything that has to do with food. But here’s did you ever stop to think that eating is actually one of the best ways to carry out the Jesus mission!
   Jesus recognized the importance of eating together. If I asked you to think about the things Jesus did during his time on earth, what would come to mind?  I’m guessing most of us would think of things like teaching, healing, doing miracles, praying, walking on water, dying on a cross, right? But did you ever notice that part of how Jesus saved the world was by… eating?  A lot of Jesus’ ministry was centered around meals:
      •He performed his first miracle at a wedding feast.
      •He fed 5000 people on a hill in the countryside.
      •The night before his crucifixion, he ate a meal with his closest friends. We will commemorate that meal at the end of this message.
      •After his resurrection, he shared breakfast on the beach with his disciples.
   Eating was a big deal in Jesus’ culture. Eating with someone was a statement that you wanted to be associated with them. Eating with someone was an affirmation of that person’s value, dignity, and worth. Who you ate with was a statement of who you loved and cared about and considered part of your social class.   That’s why it was so outrageous to the religious leaders that Jesus frequently ate with the lowest and most despised people of his day. Respectable rabbis don’t eat with those who aren’t part of the “good people” group.
   One of the best examples comes from the Gospel of Matthew, and it’s actually about Matthew the tax collector himself:
   “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ He told him, and Matthew got up and followed Him. 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”?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” -Matthew 9:9-13
   This is the scene: Jesus is walking along and he sees a tax collector named Matthew at his tax collector’s booth. Jesus walks up to Matthew and says two life-changing words: “Follow Me.”  In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were considered the scum of the earth. You know the jokes people tell about lawyers? Well, tax collectors were the butt of those kind of jokes in Jesus’ day. Tax collectors were local lackeys for the Roman Empire. Most Jewish people considered them traitors. Tax collectors made money by overcharging their own people. For Jesus to call one of the most despised, looked down upon guys to be one of his disciples would have been an enormous shock. Scandalous, even.  And notice the first thing Jesus did after Matthew said “yes” to his invitation. He didn’t say, “Let’s study the Torah.” Jesus said, in essence, “Let’s eat!”  Jesus went to Matthew’s house to eat. To the leaders of the religious establishment, this was absolutely shameful!
   The Pharisees were no better than off than Israel was in the days of Hosea.  They were adhering to religious ritual while failing to love their neighbor as God loves them. So, Jesus conveys an important principle of blessing.
   Those who know God’s mercy, show God’s mercy.
   In Christ we have been born again by the mercy of God.  I wonder how often the watching world sees the Christian church as the Pharisees and not Jesus. We talk much about mercy but sometimes do little to show it.  Jesus was gentle with sinners.  Today, Christians have the reputation of being abrasive towards sinners. Jesus showed mercy through meals.  His intent was not to join sinners in their sinning, but to mercifully call sinners to a new way of life-to call them to repentance.
   And we should too.  Meals provide us the opportunity to share the life-changing message of Christ.  If Jesus made meals his mission, then we should make meals our mission too.

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