Mark does not waste time with details. We enter the story just after Jesus has been doing some teaching along the beach, he sees Levi, the tax collector, calls him as a disciple, and ends up at his house for dinner. From there, we go pretty quickly through 3 different stories that may have taken place one right after the other. Or there could have been weeks in between. Mark isn’t really interested in the narrative details. He just wants to let us know the important highlights.
And in each of these three stories, Jesus is confronted by a “questioner”. They aren’t enemies or critics just yet. Jesus hasn’t been around long enough yet to really start making people mad. Right now, they’re just trying to figure out who this guy is and what he’s up to. And they obviously respect him as some sort of holy man. Otherwise, they wouldn’t care what he was doing, or what example he was setting. So 3 questions, 3 stories, all having something to do with eating.
In the first story, it’s the scribes, watching Jesus eat with a bunch of obvious sinners. And the question, “Why does he eat with them?” So…who does Jesus eat with? In the second story, it’s a question of when. When is the right time to eat? Those guys are fasting right now. How come Jesus isn’t? And in that third story, it’s a question of how. Are those disciples really gathering food on the Sabbath? That’s not how you eat on the day of rest! How is that ok?
Three stories. Three questions. All about food and eating and the who and the when and the how of it all.
Now, it just might be me, but doesn’t this just seems like a disproportionate amount of time spent caring about food? I mean, so far, Jesus hasn’t said anything about how we ought to treat one another. Or how to get our act together and be better people. So far, it’s been a bunch of healings and now 3 stories about eating. 3 different questions about how and when Jesus eats and who Jesus eats with. And it just kind of seems like, “What’s the big deal? Why does it matter? Why is food such a place of contention between Jesus and the nay-sayers?”
But do you know what I realized? Do you know who has the time and energy to care about a bunch of rules about how and when and where you can eat? Hmm?
PEOPLE WHO AREN’T HUNGRY!
Rules and manners are all nice and good when you’ve got plenty to eat. But when you’re hungry, you just eat. When you’re hungry, you just need to be fed.
You know, I have, on occasion, practiced fasting as a spiritual discipline. And I won’t pretend to be good at it or lie and tell you it’s fun. It’s not. It’s terrible. And mostly, I hate it. But I have learned a few things from it. And of the things I’ve learned is that there are different kinds of hunger.
The first kind, the kind I call “habit hunger”, hits about mid-morning. That’s your body saying, “Hey! We usually eat about now. Don’t you want to go get something? Huh, huh, huh???” And it’s annoying and it’s uncomfortable, but it eventually goes away.
The second kind of hunger is a much deeper hunger. It’s the hunger of your body saying, “Ok, we need to eat now. This isn’t funny anymore.” And things start to happen in your body. The way your body operates starts to change. And everything becomes about food. Rules and manners are all nice and good when you have plenty to eat. But when you’re hungry, you just eat.
And Jesus didn’t come to appease the well fed or puff up the already satisfied.
Jesus came into a hungry world, among hungry people, to feed the hungry. To be bread for a world starved of grace.
Of course he eats with sinners. Of course he eats right now. Of course they plucked grain on the Sabbath. BECAUSE HUNGRY PEOPLE NEED TO EAT! And Jesus came to feed the world.
You know, it’s interesting. Mark tells us that Jesus was teaching the people. But he doesn’t tell us what Jesus was teaching. What he tells us is what Jesus was doing. For Mark, Jesus’ actions tell us far more about who he was and what he was after than his words did. What Mark records is the way Jesus made people question their assumptions. Question their beliefs. Question what actually matters in our life together and with God.
And what comes through loud and clear is that when people are hungry – hungry for food, hungry for connections, hungry for a place to belong, hungry for grace – you feed them.
When people are hungry, you feed them.
Rules and manners are all well and good when you’re not starving. But we are living in a world starved of grace. Starved of hope. Starved of connection. And starving people just need to be fed. We can worry about who earned it or who deserves it when the world is healed. We can ask questions later. Right now, we just need to be fed.
We just need to show up at the table and grab on to all God offers. And hold on to it like our life depends on in. Because it does.
Jesus came to feed a hungry world. A world starved of grace.
And it doesn’t matter who you are, or what day it is, or how you come to the table. If this is your first time here, or your hundredth time here.
If you are hungry, you will be fed.
God offers the fullness of the kingdom over to your weary, hungry soul. No questions asked. No payment needed. Because that’s what Jesus came to do.