In 1573, Paolo Veronese was commissioned to paint a giant portrayal of the Last Supper that would take up an entire wall of the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. They were expecting him to come up with something similar to Da Vinci’s famous last supper scene, but the picture above is what he came up with instead.
Instead of a intimate portrayal of Jesus sharing his last meal with his disciples, you have this huge, 42-foot wide feast. If you zoom in a look closely you can find each of the disciples seated at the table, but then all around them are all these other zany and out of place characters. There are cats and dogs and Arabs and Germans and jesters and drunks and some poor guy with a nose bleed.
So when Veronese unveiled his Last Supper the church was ticked. He had taken this holy, sacred moment and scandalized it.
They put him on trial for heresy.
At one point they asked him, “Does it seem suitable to you, in the Last Supper of our Lord, to represent buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs, and other such absurdities?”
They decided that they would not tolerate an image of Jesus eating with all these “unholy” kinds of people and they told him he had three months to change the painting and make it right—to get rid of all the weirdos and outsiders, and make it a proper portrayal of Last Supper.
Here’s what Veronese did: with a stroke of artistic rebellion, instead of taking any of the wild characters out of the painting, he made one little change:
He added an inscription on one of the columns that says, “LVCA. CAP. V.” or “Luke, Chapter 5” and he changed the name of the painting to “Feast in the House of Levi.”
Luke 5:29-30: Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
And the Inquisition didn’t say another word.
The Roman Church fell into the same trap as the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They believed that there was only a select group of sanitized people who should be invited to a place at the table with Jesus.
But Jesus seems to have no problem sharing meals with tax collectors and sinners, jesters and even Germans.
Here’s what I think this story might expose in us:
Some of us believe the lie that Jesus is only interested in people like us.
Think of all the horrible racist or oppressive movements throughout church history that are rooted in this lie: that we are God’s favorite, that we are the ones he wants at his table and everyone else is intruding on our holy experience.
Apparently, Jesus doesn’t see it that way. His table is way bigger than we think.
This is why I believe that the church should be the most diverse and inclusive community in the world. Where sinners and tax collectors, rich and poor, young and old, black and white and every color in between find common fellowship in Christ.
So, who is it that you have the hardest time believing is invited to the table?