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Stories of Jesus
Chapter 4: The Stories

Part One: Jesus before Easter

More Jesus stories: the glutton and drunkard or how the least and the greatest stack up

Eating seems to have been a rather large part of Jesus’ ministry. Some of Jesus’ most characteristic teachings come in the context of a meal. While dining he accepts the “sinful” woman who washes his feet with her tears. At another meal he notices and criticizes the custom of seating at a banquet according to rank and vying for the places of honor.

The gospels report many occasions in which Jesus eats at someone’s home. In the stories it’s usually at the home of a rich person—Zaccheus (a tax collector), a synagogue official, Levi (another tax collector), a Pharisee, a leading Pharisee. Jesus must have eaten at poor people’s homes, too. Some critics scolded Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. “Sinners” is a code word for those who could not afford the time and effort and education to know, much less follow, all the rules as interpreted by the Pharisees—in other words, poor people. Jesus offended certain sensibilities by eating with the tax collectors. They were hated Jewish collaborators with Rome. He offended other sensibilities by eating with the poor. They were merely despised.

Some critics compared Jesus unfavorably with the abstemious John the Baptist, calling him a glutton and a drunkard. I think even some of the early Christians had concerns about this. The source that Matthew and Luke relied on reports a charge brought against Jesus that he didn’t fast the way John did. In answering the charge, Jesus doesn’t criticize John. In fact, he had just said in Matthew’s Gospel that, up to now, there has been “none greater than John the Baptist.” But, he continues, “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11) It’s a strange saying. Our idea of greatness is being made over here, if not totally undone. Jesus also called a child into the midst of the disciples and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4)

Thinking about the main point: We call God great. Could God’s greatness be more like the greatness of the least in the Kingdom of Heaven and less like the ones we consider greatest? When we think of great love, we tend to think of great deeds, but maybe God’s love is like the love of a child, the easy, blissful enjoyment of another person.

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