I have a confession to make: I don’t like parties or large social gatherings of any kind.
My wife jokes that I am antisocial, but in reality it’s just that I find such gatherings quite emotionally draining.
I never liked attending my own birthday parties as a child and for a while I think my parents thought I must have been having psychological problems. But in other ways my emotional development seemed normal. It was not until I was an adult that I learned that extroverts are energized by social interactions while introverts find them draining!
Over time, I learned to manage these feelings, especially at work, as I attended conventions and conferences and had to speak to large numbers of people, but after the events I had to have time on my own to recharge and boost my productivity.
Similarly my church/denomination loved to have “rallies” and “retreats” and “congresses”, I would participate and enjoy the fellowship until I couldn’t handle it any more and had to get away and relax and recharge. If you find that my experience resonates with you, welcome to the introvert Society(TM) — we’re different but still quite normal!
Thinking of these shindigs got me wondering if there were any such recreational gatherings in the Bible.
There are not a lot if you discount the mandatory “feasts” held in Jerusalem. Those were circumscribed by so many rules, bylaws, traditions and taxes that any joy or levity was sucked right out of them. They may have been a boon for those selling accommodations, food or sacrifices but I doubt even the extroverts found much to energize them in those traditions. They were hardly what I would define as a “party” which should lead to serendipitous and unexpected joy.
The famous wedding at Cana in Galilee that Jesus rescued performing his first recorded miracle probably comes closer to a real party. But there again religious traditions and orthodox expectations would rob some of the spontaneity from the occasion. However, I’m sure the crowd loved the dancing after the wedding ceremony!
The other party that comes to mind is the one referred to in my title. Matthew Levi was the host and his guest list included his friends, family, business associates, and Jesus’ students/apprentices. Of course Jesus was the guest of honor.
Here’s Mark’s account of how it came about:
Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Mark 2:13-17 NLT
Matt Levi was probably one of the most hated and despised people in the area. He collected taxes on behalf of King Herod, which was marginally less evil than collecting taxes for the Romans! His surname Levi indicated that he was of the priestly clan, but obviously had abandoned that path in order to extort money from his own people. I’m sure he did not often venture out at night in dark alleys!
To the orthodox religious establishment there was a hierarchy of people in Israel — in descending order they were the “righteous” (keepers of all the scribal laws and rules), the “people of the land” (of Jewish heritage, but lax in their observances of the proper customs), “sinners” (people who did not care to observe the rules), “tax-gatherers” (traitors to society), and “gentiles” (everyone else). If you wished to be viewed as “righteous” you had to avoid all appearance of, or actual contact with those further down the social order.
That is why the pharisaical party-poopers referred to Matthew’s guest list as “scum”. I love the parenthesis, (…there were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)!
Jesus was breaking their rules because keeping their rules only supported their tradition rather than supporting His mission.
Jesus descends the hierarchy not to become a person at their level, but to lift the “scum" up to his level.
He uses the analogy of a doctor healing the sick, not pandering to the vanity of the healthy.
Some teachers of evangelism suggest that we can use the idea of a “Matthew party” to reach a guest list of unsaved people in our social orbit. The idea seems to be “the more the merrier” and then use “bait and switch” to introduce the subject of salvation. I think this could work, but only so long as we make sure Jesus is the life and soul of the party. I know that seems obvious, but our society regularly holds a birthday party for Jesus every Christmas, and then deliberately and consciously snubs and excludes the birthday boy!
Jesus had been systematically excluded from speaking about the coming Kingdom in the synagogues, so he takes the show on the road. He teaches by the side of the lake. He holds gatherings on hillsides. He parties in the houses of sinners! It’s not very much of a leap to suggest that we should get out of our closeted, comfortable worship settings and start being salt and light in mundane, ordinary settings.
"Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.” Psalm 107:2 NLT [or if you prefer KJV— “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”]
As you can imagine, the thought of a large Matthew party fills me with trepidation, but it works with much smaller numbers.
Jesus reminds us, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Matthew 8:20 NLT I’m up for that!
Let’s invite an unsaved friend for coffee, and introduce a couple of believer friends (and Jesus). Just naturally talk about your experience at church, or whatever…
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://www.salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/?category=Bible%20Study