"We seem to have forgotten an important dimension of what Christianity is all about: the kingdom of God is a party. Our Jesus was and is the Lord of the party" (Tony Campolo).
Probably the main thing my friends and I would miss if our church didn't exist would be our community parties! I think this is born from a conviction that parties can be a sign of the kingdom if they deliberately include those on the outside, those considered unacceptable by others. Today's story once again powerfully demonstrates Jesus' focus on people on the margins, with parties as a key element. In Jesus' day tax officials were extortionists, Roman collaborators, regarded as ritually unclean by the Pharisees. Still, Jesus chose to break into their world, just as he did with the man with leprosy, by calling Levi to follow him.
Jesus didn't merely call people like tax collectors to follow him; he also sat down to meals with them (29). Eating together was a sign of acceptance, and the Pharisees had strict rules about table fellowship as an indication of who were true Israelites. Jesus, however, rewrote their criteria, putting recognition of need and repentance at the heart of the matter. When they used John the Baptist as an example of religious austerity, Jesus again highlighted the party theme, a wedding feast, as a sign that a new age had come with celebration central to this. He wasn't saying that fasting was a bad thing (See Matt. 4:2; 6:16-18), but that the need was over for the type of fasting in Judaism that was a lament that God's kingdom had not yet come.
Meals feature a lot in Luke's Gospel as a radical sign of the kingdom, yet in today's church we've mostly reduced this to invitations to people like ourselves. Maybe we should have fewer meetings and more parties!