In Jesus’ day there were social dining conventions, as there are today in some ways but probably more explicit. According to these social norms a host with status in the community such as a Pharisee should only invite people who boost their own standing in the community. So this would mean a person like a Pharisee would invite people within their own social standing. People did this so that they wouldn’t lose face socially. Mealtime was a time for many to maintain the social hierarchy. People would use a network of relationships to maintain social power.
Jesus bursts onto the scene and the Pharisees notice that he is different. In fact, he sticks out like a sore thumb! Jesus eats with people considered to be the scum of society. This clearly isn’t boosting his social standing. So what is Jesus up to? It seems that he has come announcing a kingdom that isn’t interested in these social games. Rather this is a kingdom in which the sick are healed, the poor are fed, the lowly are lifted up, those excluded are included. As Jesus says, “It isn’t the healthy who need a doctor, it’s the sick”.
During Lent we fast and we remind ourselves of the reality of sin and its consequences. But in this passage we see that in Jesus God has done something new, something that breaks the power of sin. Jesus sets a table for us, he invites us to celebrate and to be part of the party. Jesus invites all of us even though we are sinners. Here we see the awesome grace and mercy of God.