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. In a strong culture of honour and shame these things are very important.
So mealtime was a time for many to maintain the social hierarchy. People would use a network of relationships to maintain social power.
So, of course the Pharisees ask Jesus' disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" These people didn't rate highly on the social scale. Jesus' answer to the Pharisees was that he has come to those in need: the sick.
What we can so easily miss when we read this text is this: we can label everyone else as the "sinner or tax collector". The beautiful thing about Lent is that this is a time where we stop and examine our own lives. It won't take most of us very long to figure out that we are indeed sick and that we also need healing. The good news for us is that Jesus longs to sit at the table with us. He didn't come to pat the self righteous on the back but rather to heal broken sinners.
A prayer for today: Father, we come before you as people who are broken sinners in need of healing. Jesus, may you bring healing and wholeness to our lives. Holy Spirit, inspire us afresh to have love for those in our world who are also sick like us and in need of healing. Amen.