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“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2

Jesus did two things consistently. First: he broke bread and drank wine with a community of people he considered family. The same people are labeled “sinners” by the Pharisees and the scribes. Second: he told stories with surprising endings, known to us as parables. Let us listen to another story today that might shine some light on the significance of Jesus’ words and deeds.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’ The professor then produced a bottle of wine from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. ‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—- your relationships, your family, your children, your friends and your favorite passions—-and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else—-the small stuff. ‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.

The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important, like friends and family. Pay attention to the things that are important to your life. Spend time with your family. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Spend time with your friends. Take your spouse out to dinner. There will always be time to do other less significant stuff.

Take care of the golf balls first—-the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand, it will fall in place. One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the wine represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The wine just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a glass of wine with your loved ones.

Set your priorities; the rest is just pebbles and sand.

Clearly, those who accused Jesus of welcoming and eating with sinners have their priorities wrong. They didn’t realize that rules and rituals are like pebbles and sand. If they focus on it first there will be no room left for anything else.

Gospel writers tell us that Jesus spent his time on earth eating and drinking – a lot of time. He gathered people around the table, probably with some grilled fish and a loaf of bread. It was often around the table and over a shared meal that discipleship and evangelism took place.

Such a modest act was deemed offensive by the religious authorities.

No wonder Jesus noted: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Luke 7:34

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