Jesus at the Table: Why Jesus Ate with Sinners and What It Means for Us

While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:10-11)

For the last several weeks we’ve looked at the call of Matthew, the Jewish tax collector who left his financial security and his responsibilities to follow Jesus. Matthew’s call is dramatic: he literally got up from his desk and walked away, never to look back.

But the next two verses inform us that in fact, Matthew didn’t instantly and completely sever ties with his old life.

In fact, he almost did the opposite: he called up all the people he’d known in his old life and invited them over to meet Jesus.

Matthew’s Friends, The “Sinners”

In Matthew 9:10, “the house” where Jesus sat down to dinner is Matthew’s house (we know this both from the context and from the gospel of Luke, where it’s identified outright). So the people gathered there are Matthew’s guests: his friends, his co-workers, his social circle.

As we saw in an earlier post, Matthew’s job as a tax collector made him an outsider in his own society. He had willingly chosen to profit off Rome’s oppression of his people, and understandably, the only people who approved of such a choice were other people making similar choices.

So it’s not surprising that Matthew’s friends are more “tax collectors and sinners.” The word “sinners” is used in the gospels to denote a specific group of people, not just “sinful humanity” in general, but we don’t know exactly who they were. It’s likely they were non-law-observant Jews, Jewish people who did not tithe, sacrifice, or observe the rites of purity that were meant to set God’s people apart.

They may have included prostitutes or professional mistresses, but it’s unlikely that Matthew’s friends were poor. They are more likely to have been wealthy people perceived as oppressors and backstabbers — Jews who had abandoned their people to benefit from Rome.

In any case, Matthew’s friends were not the sort of people religious teachers would generally welcome or associate with. In fact, association with them was seen as personally tainting and may have been viewed as undermining Israel’s tenuous covenant with God.

But Matthew, who had just experienced the call and acceptance of Jesus in his own life, immediately turned around and extended it to others just like him.

Rather than drop his friends, he invites them to come with him on this new journey. He summons them to dinner and introduces them to Jesus. And amazingly enough, some of them come.

The Scandal of Fellowship

Jesus, of course, also accepts the invitation. He’s willing to eat with these people, and that’s a scandal.

Even in our culture, eating with someone implies sharing not just food but something deeper. There is generosity in serving a meal, humility in receiving one, and fellowship — or identification with one another — in eating together.

Even strangers around a table become something more: for the duration of a meal, we are friends, colleagues, family.

That’s why the Pharisees were scandalized when Jesus ate with sinners. He was extending grace to them, acceptance, open arms — before they had repented or changed anything about their lives.

He was associating, identifying himself with, sinners. That of course was at the core of his whole mission, but not many people understood that yet.

God at the Table

It’s common to hear this story interpreted to mean that Jesus spent most of his time hanging out with the guys at the local pub, guzzling beer and telling jokes, or focused his efforts on reaching the poor and marginalized.

That’s really not an accurate picture.

But here in the heart of Matthew we see the heart of God: to share the table with those who are far from him, and more so, to share himself. To enter fully into human life, and here on the ground with us, to give us heaven.

Jesus accepted Matthew’s generosity and humbled himself to receive the food of sinners. At the same time, he gave them the heavenly food of himself: his time, his spirit, his kingdom message, his love.

As he gave himself to them, he also identified with them. For an afternoon, he allowed himself to be seen as one of them, sharing fellowship with them. This was an identification he would carry all the way to the cross, eventually dying for their sins.

Whether they would identify with him, as Matthew was publicly doing, was up to them.

Where Are You in the Story?

One ancient method of Scripture reading calls us to locate ourselves in the stories of the gospel — identifying with a specific character or characters so we can be better impacted by them. It’s a fruitful practice here.

Are you a “sinner” — one who is far from God and struggling to believe the Lord could accept or eat with you? Will you recognize his humility and willingness to fellowship with you where you are, before you’ve gotten clean, before you’re worthy in your own eyes to receive his love?

Are you a Matthew — willing to extend the calling of God to your friends, coworkers, family, social networks? Can you believe that God loves them enough to come and share a meal with them, and that you can facilitate that connection?

Are you in the place of Jesus — full of the Holy Spirit, a minister of the gospel of reconciliation, able to extend grace, fellowship, and the call of God to others?

When God comes to us, he always enters our low estate to give us gifts from heaven. He comes into our lowly lives to call us to higher ones. He eats our bread so he can offer his body and blood — himself, broken and given for us, so that we can be saved and fed, purified and made whole.


I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!

This is Part 118 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


This blog, Revelatory Creative, is a labor of love. My goal is to spend time studying and writing about the kingdom of God so that the church—you and me—can find our place within this largely forgotten but central Bible message.

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Photo by Daniel Lee on Unsplash




8 responses to “Jesus at the Table: Why Jesus Ate with Sinners and What It Means for Us”

  1. L Avatar

    I had a recurring dream and I wonder what it means. Ive asked Holy Spirit to give me the meaning and He hasnt. My dream…
    I knew it was a recurring event where believers gathered. I was in a room with another family (husband, wife and 6 kids or so), wife thought she was pregnant. I was at another table with people I dont remember if they were my family, kids, etc. But there was a man with an accent, beard, hair to his shoulders and very very handsome. I also remember he had a very peaceful feeling about him. He asked me “Did you bring the meat?” And I answered “no”. He said “it ok go get the meat. And I will bring everything else” So I ended back up at the room with the meat and eat with him. I remember feeling joy. I dreamt it again less then 2 weeks later. Same room & same family. This time the women on the other table confirmed she was pregnant and was half ways (6mths or so). That same man in my dream was also there and again he asked if I brought the meat and I again I said no. This time though my husband was in the dream and I felt he was jealous of this man even though he didn’t say it. Cut to the end, this man didn’t eat with me because my husband was jealous of him. I remember eating and saying this man brought everything to the table but isnt here to enjoy it with us” My husband and I are separated due to abuse so I wonder what this dream meant. Its bothered me a lot actually.

  2. Tammy Shank Avatar
    Tammy Shank

    In my walk with the Lord Jesus (especially when I tried to find a church to go to that I was comfortable with). I have found out throughout the years that I would much rather talk with a bunch of bikers than talk to a bunch of church goers … for the reason, bikers accept you for who you are while church goers look down on you and judge you by not just your actions but also your appearance. … Then this verse came to my heart that Jesus ate with the publicans and sinners. And the Scribes and Pharisees cast judgement on Jesus for being in the presence of these so called ‘ungodly’ men. So why would Jesus be with these ‘ungodly’ instead of sitting down to eat with the Scribes and Pharisees? … Jesus came to heal the sick (sinners) not the righteous …. If you really think about it, being Christian isn’t about being perfect and sinless, it’s about truly knowing the One who is truly without sin. …. We all need to start humbling ourselves. Stop casting judgement on others and be a true Christian and accept people for who they are.

    1. Todd graves Avatar
      Todd graves

      Jesus ate with sinners but he preached to them the gospel he didnt condone there sin..recently somone i know has used this scripture to justify fellowship with churches that are clearly not biblical. Does not also the scripture say not unequally yoked with unbelivers. And if any man bring not this doctrine bid them not good day for if you bid them good day God will consider you a partaker of there evil deeds. And,
      rebuke them sharply who are not sound in the faith. the consistant messege from abraham all through the old testament and repated in the new is to be seperate. Called out.we are to lovingly witness to non belivers and even false teachers like mormons etc bit we are commanded not to felowship with them. This one scripture cant cancil the wealth of other scriptures .so why do people use this scripture to contradict or cancil the others. ?

    2. Ursula S Derios Avatar
      Ursula S Derios

      Sometimes when “church goers” are reflecting or teaching God’s standard for our lives, we consider it looking down on us. When we hang with people who may not hold God’s standard for our lives we can become comfortable with our sinful nature. Growing in God can be uncomfortable at times, but people who love us desire to see a change in us towards God’s holy standards in Christ Jesus.

  3. Artie Whitefox Avatar
    Artie Whitefox

    Matthew 21:31“Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” King James Version (KJV) Money made harlots. They were earning money. Jesus did not condemn them for that. Jesus did not come here to condemn people., Chrtists enemies were sinners way worse than the people he ate with. Those sinners were not dead set on condeming anyone. Those sinners will get into God’s kingdom, before Christs enemies. It is amazing to me how a verse saying freely you have received all things, freely give, is not universally accepted. How can people think that words mean anything other than what those words say?

    1. Phumzile Avatar

      Hi servant of the MOST HIGHEST God
      I’m amazed of your work of God and I would say keep up a good work and may the God of Israel bless you abundantly 🙏

  4. Kermit Avatar

    Hi I just saw found this stuff just by a question that I asked about Jesus sitting with sinners that is so great keep the good work up praying for you that the Lord will stay in touch always and yes he does and yes he does

  5. Milady Griffin Avatar
    Milady Griffin

    Hi, Rachel! I’m the editor for a missional hospitality magazine called Part&Parcel, and I’d love to print this blog post in one of our upcoming issues. If you’re interested, please email me at Thanks!

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