Sharing a meal is a sacred thing. It is an intimate thing. Being invited into a home, sitting at a table, and eating together makes you vulnerable. It’s a frequent thing for individuals dating to go out and have a meal together in part because of the vulnerability. It opens you up and it asks the other person to do the same. You share a meal together and see, is this someone I can continue to eat in front of for the rest of my life. Despite Renaissance and Medieval paintings to the contrary, we eat meals looking at each other, across tables. The blessing that God gives to Humanity in Genesis 1 is centered around food (“I give every [thing] for food”). In the second creation narrative (Genesis 2), the first command given to Adam is to eat (what is translated “you are free to eat…” is more like a loving mother urging her children to “eat…eat). So after calling Levi, Jesus sits down and eats. This is to what the Pharisees took offense.
Yet Jesus’s response, rather than a dismissal of the Pharisees’ concerns, is an invitation to them to admit their own state as well. Only the sick need a doctor. Are you sick? I’ll come to you too. Yet we have to humble ourselves first.
All of this is, of course, about the new thing Jesus is doing. This isn’t the old religion of the past; the make-yourself-presentable style religion; the i-can-come-once-i-take-care-of-something religion. No. This new thing will break those old ways of seeking God like a dried wineskin would break if still fermenting wine were poured inside. Instead, God is seeking us. God is doing a new thing, and that’s cause for celebration right now.