Sermon 26 February 2006

The gospel reading this morning (Mark 2:13-22) is all about where to eat.

In order to get into the gospel reading this morning, perhaps we should imagine that Jesus has turned up in Bridge of Allan this morning, just as he used to turn up the villages and the towns around the sea of Galilee.

Anyone who has an itinerant lifestyle like he did knows the importance of the question – where can I eat today? No wonder Jesus talks a lot about food as he wanders the countryside. Where the next meal is coming from matters a huge amount when that question is real and you genuinely do not know.

So, Jesus turns up on a Sunday morning in Bridge of Allan. Where will he eat?

Will it be the sharing of the bread and wine in church?

Will it be lunch in the Westerton?

Will it be in the home of someone here?

What kind of meal will he eat? Will it be the kind of table that you or I would enjoy sitting down to?

The thing is, he did turn up in a village and he did eat at someone’s table. He turned up by the sea of Galilee and ate at the house of Levi.

Now, it is quite hard for us to understand the position of the tax collector. They were the greedy collaborators with the Romans. The ones who kept their own people down by taking the Emperor’s taxes and creaming off a good share for themselves.

It is hard to think of anyone who would be more hated, resented and also feared than Levi would have been sitting in his tax booth.

But it is to Levi’s house that Jesus makes his way. It is at Levi’s table that he dines. It is in Levi’s company that he spends the evening. It is with Levi’s friends that he enjoys himself.

He would have met few of them in the synagogue.

The 2 gospel paragraphs which the Mark (& the Lectionary) throws together this week are all about feasting and fasting.

Where will Jesus eat? Where should he eat?

It seems sometimes that he can please no-one. The Pharisees are not impressed when he sits down with Levi and keeps dodgy company. Then the people seem unimpressed when he eats whist others are fasting.

To some extent, Jesus brings this on himself. He seems never to pass over any opportunity to challenge convention.

When they complain about him, he shrugs it off with the comment that implies that people should feast whilst he is around, for the time will come when the “bridegroom” will not be there. That will be a time for fasting.

Mark may be making a point for his early audience. After all, this is, we think, the earliest of the gospels. These words come early on in it. Mark may be trying to speak to people who are disappointed by the absence of Jesus Christ. Certainly the early church knew that Jesus was gone and expected his imminent return. This gospel itself may have been written for those who were miserable because Jesus had not come back. Perhaps it was written to people who felt as though it was a time of fasting because Jesus was not about any more and had not returned as they had been expected.

Mark’s gospel itself may have been a collection of hopes and dreams for those people – a way of keeping hope alive. Or else, perhaps a way of telling people that Jesus had already come back within themselves.

Towards the end of this morning’s gospel, we hear Mark have Jesus say, “No-one sews unshrunk cloth onto and old cloak,” and “no-one puts new wine in old wineskins.”

There is something about the presence of Jesus which is about the new. There is a whiff of reform about many of his sayings, including especially these ones.

It sometimes seems as though his life was lived to shake people out of their expectations and their complacency. Behold, he makes all things new.

Sometimes that is hard to take – the familiar is often the comfortable; the commonplace is often the cosy.

Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?

Is it to challenge the expectations of the onlookers. Or because he could give dignity and hope and humanity to people by eating with them?

Why does he feast when others fast?

Is it to shake people’s expectation and challenge the norms of religious establishment or is it to put human beings at the centre of the spiritual landscape at last?

Perhaps there is no difference.

Certainly, he came in the tradition of the prophets of old who offered their comfort intertwined with challenge too.

Consider the Hebrew scripture we read today (Hosea 2: 14-20). Hosea is a difficult book, but the essence of it is that God desires to be with us as one lover desires to be married for all eternity to another. The prophecy, perhaps rather unexpectedly, rejects the notion that we should be in a Master-Servant relationship with God. (Baal means Lord or Master or Owner). No – that way will not do. God wants us to live in love and in security and promises to abolish the bow and the sword and war from the land so that we can live in justice and mercy and love. Security, prosperity, abundance and peace. It is the dream of prophets and the dream of lovers, the dream of politicians and the dream of preachers.

We live in the time of both feasting and fasting, as Jesus himself did. Today as God’s people, we feast in his presence and fast for that dream.


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