Mark 2: 13 – 17 Jesus calls Levi and eats with sinners
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’
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It took a certain sort of man to be a tax collector in 1st century Palestine. You could make money, sure, you could even become rich, but this came at a cost.
First and foremost, you were collecting taxes for the Romans, the occupying power. You were a collaborator. I imagine this would have brought a risk of physical assault, even death; it would certainly have brought contempt.
Secondly, you dealt with the Romans regularly, and the Romans were Gentiles. That made you ritually unclean. Indeed, the testimony of tax collectors wasn’t valid in a Jewish court of law.
What sort of man would you be?
I expect you’d be callous, not caring overmuch for the opinion of your fellow citizens. Barred from formal religious life, you’d perhaps place your reliance on physical gratification. You would make friends among your own kind – other sinners, other people who shunned the spiritual. You would probably sneer at those who didn’t accept the reality of life. ‘You’ve got to live in the real world,’ you might say. ‘Face up to it; the Romans are in charge. They’ve brought stability and trade, and we might as well benefit from it. It’s the way of the world.’
And it is exactly that. This is exactly the way of the world, now as it was then. The structures of trade and tariffs, of wealth and taxation are instrumental in keeping the majority of people firmly in poverty. The way of the world, now as it was then, is the opposite of God’s way.
The Pharisees half-understood this. They recognised that the behaviour of tax collectors and sinners was contrary to God’s will for humanity. What they didn’t understand was that many of them behaved in the same way, making use of society’s power structures to further their own interests.
When they criticise Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, he responds, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ He doesn’t exclude the Pharisees from his healing message of salvation; instead, he invites them to consider whether they are genuinely righteous.
So who is included in Jesus’ call to salvation?
Well, the disciples, of course.
And the tax collectors and sinners.
And the hypocritical Pharisees.
In fact, everyone who heard Jesus’ message was included in his invitation.
It is the same today. Everyone who hears Jesus’ message is invited to repent, receive forgiveness, and start living in God’s way, and not the way of the world.
We’re all invited! Praise the Lord!
Thank you for the life and ministry of Jesus. Thank you that he invites us to live according to your will. Please help me to repent and obey you more and more each day.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.