Jesus saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up, left everything, and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax-collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered, ‘Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to turn back to God.’ (Luke 5:27-32)
It was awesome. I was sitting in my favourite chair when Mum burst out of the kitchen bearing a great big fancy cake with a candle burning on top. Everyone began singing and I was overwhelmed and completely at a loss for words. But words were not required as all I had to do was try to blow out the candle. I succeeded with a little help from my friends.
What an experience!
More recently I went to a party where my friend’s over enthusiastic grandchildren had lit 60 candles on a cake. They all flared up and burned furiously. This set off a cacophony of smoke and fire alarms with the heat melting the candles and leaving the cake covered with a layer of wax. Everyone got a bit, but it was not very edible.
I love parties and especially banquets where I can hide behind the napkin tucked into my shirt and enjoy good food, great conversations, and the spectacle of my more extroverted friends dancing on the table.
One of my favourites was a farewell banquet given to our family when we left Box Hill.
At the time one of the Cambodian leaders in the church had just bought a restaurant and he hosted the event in his new premises. It took the form of a Yum Cha where wave after wave of dishes swept out of the kitchen with a backwash of empty plates making way for the next course. He was a very generous man and we had 48 different dishes that day.
The most startling response came when a plate of steamed chicken feet was placed in front of a group of ten-year-olds. They erupted in horror and held a very lively discussion as they poked at them with their chopsticks. I do not think they ate many. Unfortunately, the man’s generosity proved to be greater than his business acumen and the restaurant did not last long.
This reminds me of the feast where Jesus eats with Levi and his mates, the tax collectors. What an experience to see Jesus defend his right to fraternise with the traitorous Roman collaborators rather than dine with the ‘upright’ law abiding citizens of his day.
It also reminds me of the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana. This was a low-key event in a small village. No one of any great significance had been invited. As you recall the wine had been supplied in the small wineskins of the day and was of rather dubious vintage. But the wine was running out and while the host was totally unaware of the impending crisis the servants started to panic.
So with a prompt from his mother Jesus turns the water into wine and the crisis is averted. He was under no obligation to intervene so his action must be seen as a total surprise, a gift of unimaginable generosity. The massive vats of water next to the door were transformed into gallons of top-notch wine, and there was enough for everyone present with a massive amount left over.
This was a pivotal moment for here we see Jesus begin his public ministry, and demonstrate his message about the generosity of God and the nature of God’s Kingdom.
So let us celebrate and be glad.