Meal

Meal

There are few things that I appreciate more in life than enjoying a meal with good friends and family. As an intentional way of sharing our lives with one another, it is unparalleled. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a high pressure situation. In fact it can be quite a casual act (unless you happen to being to a Michelin Starred restaurant!). We invite whom we like and spend the time in whatever way we want to.

This wasn’t the case in 1st Century Palestine during Jesus’ lifetime. In that culture sharing a meal with someone had significance that it is difficult for us to imagine today. It was not a casual act. Rules surrounding meals were deeply embedded in the religious purity system that dominated society at that time.

These rules governed not only what might be eaten and how it was to be prepared, but also with whom one might eat. Refusing to share a meal was a form of social ostracism. Pharisees (and others) would not eat with someone who was seen as religiously impure.

In Matthew chapter 9 we read the story of how Jesus called the disciple of the same name, and then was invited to his house for dinner. Now Matthew, as a tax collector, would have been a social pariah. He worked for the hated Roman occupiers, and he probably ripped off his countrymen in order to line his pockets.

No good Jew would have been seen within a mile of Matthew if they could at all avoid it. They definitely would not have eaten a meal with him. The religious culture of the day would have seen that as a tacit endorsement of the tax collector’s behaviour. It would have made them as ‘impure’ as Matthew by association.

Therefore when Jesus accepts Matthew’s invitation to his house for dinner, he was doing something no other Jewish religious teacher of that time would have done.

He was putting relationship ahead of rules. People before dogma. Love over law. He was causing scandal amongst the establishment and destroying any chance of his movement being acceptable to the status quo.

More than that, by choosing to eat with these ‘tax collectors and sinners’ Jesus was enacting a powerful message about the Kingdom of God, and indeed God himself. He was demonstrating God’s unwillingness to exclude anyone who welcomes him into their life, regardless of religious taboos or societal expectations.

He was demonstrating that love trumps law every time.

This really goes to the heart of what Jesus ministry was about. This is the inclusive Kingdom of God he taught about and demonstrated through his actions.

Are there people we as Christians in 21st Century Britain struggle to relate to? Are there social groups that we consciously or sub-consciously exclude from the Kingdom of God? Do we ever put law ahead of love when dealing with others? Are we more worried about our reputation than those in need around us?

The church needs to demonstrate the love of Christ, not the law of the Pharisees. We have the most incredible, life-changing, joyous and liberating message to share- let’s not limit it’s reach!

Withdraw

Withdraw

As you read the gospels, you might notice that on a number of occasions during his ministry Jesus makes the decision to ‘withdraw’ from the public limelight, and even from the company of his disciples.

He goes to a quiet place, either a mountain, a lake or the wilderness and spends some time in contemplation and prayer.

To us this might seem counter-intuitive.

His following is increasing. His reputation is on the rise. His message is reaching hundreds of people. We would want to ride that wave, make the most of the moment and keep going.

And yet….

Jesus makes it a priority to withdraw. He takes time out. He stops what he is doing. He runs the risk of losing momentum and missing out on new followers.

He must have thought solitude and prayer were significant.

One of the things I love about the Bible is it’s ability to speak to the human condition in the here and now, regardless of the fact it was written thousands of years ago.

We live in an age when the need to withdraw is greater than ever.

The tyranny of work phones, notifications and instant messaging means that we are rarely out of reach or switched off.

We are the generation of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), unable to unplug from our social media outlets in case something happens.

As Millennials, studies show many of us suffer from anxiety if we are separated from our devices for more than a couple of minutes.

The result of never switching off? Stress. Burn out. Exhaustion.

There is huge value in taking time to be still, to meditate, to centre ourselves, to spend time with God.

It gives us space to recharge, to refocus, to listen to what our heavenly father might be saying to us.

Jesus wanted to empower his disciples in the art of quiet attentiveness; “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

Sensing God’s grace instead of anxiously waiting for ‘likes’ is what we need.

Why not carve out some time to withdraw?

Listen for the whisper of the divine.

Be still.