Mark 2:13-17 For Calling Sinners

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. In today's passage of scripture a story is written about when Jesus had a meal with tax collectors and sinners. A number of stories having to do with meals have survived and can be found frequently enough in the Gospels. It certainly had something valid for the every day business of the church, which was the one to pass these stories of Jesus on down. For the church after Jesus returned back to heaven, meals used to have great significance. In particular, the church put great honor on the meal called "The Lord's Supper" or "the breaking of bread." Even today in our own churches, we have a table called the communion table. We gather around this table and we worship. It's been that way for the church since of old. The church has gathered around the Lord's table and has worshipped the Lord. Within such places the story of the Lord's meal has been told and passed on. So whenever the church has thought of, "Who has been invited to be with Jesus? Who are the ones called to the Lord's dinner table?," they have always been reminded time and again of these words from the Lord. "The one who needs a doctor is not an able bodied man, but a sick person. The reason I came is to call sinners, "(Mark 2:17). These are the words of the Lord we are given for today. As persons gathering around the Lord's table and worshipping him, I would like for us to experience these words as a group.

Follow Me

2. The story that I read you for today starts off at when a certain tax collector was called by Jesus. The man's name was given as Levi. In The Gospel According To Matthew, the name of this character is "Matthew." As one of the twelve disciples, it is taken as fact based on tradition that the Gospel of Matthew was written by him. Simon and Andrew, James and John had become disciples of the Lord already before him. The facts of how things went are recorded beginning in chapter one and verse sixteen. Levi was also added to the flock of disciples who had already been forming as a group as given in that [chapter].

3. By the way, "disciple" which we find so often in the Gospels is a Greek word and is pronounced "mathetes," and the corresponding Hebrew word for that is the word "talmid." Generally speaking, when one used the word "talmid," it was a word indicating the person studying the law under a rabbi or rav, (a teacher of Judaism). They listened to the messages of the rabbi, asked questions and did rote memorization of what they heard. Furthermore, they imitated the life of the rabbi in application, and studied the way to live in obedience unto the law. That was a talmid. It is believed that the relationship of Jesus and his disciples and the relationship of a rabbi and his talmidim (plural for talmid) are very very close. The reason the words of Jesus and his stories have remained is that there must have been the rabbi - talmid bond around them. As a matter of fact, the Jews considered Jesus and his disciples like that when they appeared in Galilee. Christians were called Jesus' talmidim in later writings.

4. But, even though it would seem that Jesus was seen as a rabbi back then and his followers were talmidim, what really sticks out is not the similarities between him and the rabbinical model, but the differences. As a rav, Jesus was quite very dissimilar to the role. Therefore, he came into repeated conflicts more often than not. To begin with, it is unclear if Jesus of Nazareth ever even studied the law under anyone [as was typically done]. Many people wondered and questioned, "Where did he even get this stuff from? ... Isn't he a carpenter?," (6:2-3).

5. But, what was decisively different about Jesus from the usual rabbis was the process in which a person would become a talmid or a disciple of Jesus. This is given in words quite clear in today's biblical passage. Generally speaking, the talmid chose a rav and entered into an apprenticeship. As might be expected, it was taken for granted that the apprentice had a heart that sought for the truth. But, it wasn't that way in Jesus' case. The night before he was crucified, Jesus said, "You have not chosen me. I have chosen you," (John 15:16). Those words are true. Peter and John did not chose Jesus as their teacher. [The choice made by] Jesus came slipping into their lives while they were fishing. Jesus called them out and made them his disciples.

6. This scene with Levi goes the same way. The text says, "Jesus came out to the vicinity of the lake again. As an audience all gathered nearby him, Jesus taught them," (verse fifteen), but Levi wasn't even among the audience. He had no interest whatsoever in the kingdom of God or in things like eternal life. While Jesus was teaching at the lake, [Levi] was sitting at [his] tax collector station. In today's scripture passage, tax collectors are put on the same line as sinners. It was not for no reason. They weren't just despised as rebels going against God for their work in collecting taxes from their compatriots on behalf of the Gentile Roman [overlords]. Actually their was plenty of room for dishonesty to creep into their office, and actually dishonest and ill gotten gains had been taking place. The man Levi, at that moment, was truly sitting there hard-faced quite deep in his sinful lifestyle.

7. But, Jesus got him to look at him and he said, "Follow me." So then what happened after that? The text says, "He got up and followed Jesus." Why in the world did he do that? No reason is given in the text. Some might say, "He had been ostracized by Jewish society, but though he was rich, he was lonely. Therefore, he was pleased at Jesus' invitation." It might well have been. But, it would seem that the Bible has no interest in his psychological transformation. Instead, this is depicted as a miracle that took place because of what Jesus said. Just before this story is the miracle story of the man with palsy who had gotten up because of what Jesus said. In the same way then this man also got up because of a miracle that came through the words of Jesus.

8. In particular, the words "get up" is a word which is used with the meaning of "to rise up from the dead." Generations of Christians have identified themselves with this. Christ has come into our lives. Christ has caught our attention while we were sitting at our tax collector stations. If we describe our situation like this, that we were sitting down hard-faced in our lives of sin, not even thinking ever about a relationship with God or the ultimate hope, that we were plumb "dead," but that our getting up from that could easily be described as "a resurrection, a getting up from the dead." That's a miracle that came from what Christ said. Of course, nobody just ups and instantly becomes a fine specimen of a human being after that. But, in every case, we got up [from where we were] and we started a brand new walk with Christ. That happened to Levi, that happened to us.

The Reason I Came Is To Call Sinners

9. And it says that Levi wasn't the only one. The text says, "There was a time when Jesus was sitting at a dinner seat in Levi's house. Many tax collectors and sinners were also seated with Jesus and his disciples. A large gathering of people was there and had followed Jesus there," (verse fifteen). Jesus was taking a meal here in this place with the friends and likes of Levi. Jesus did not show prejudice against those who had been despised by society, but he took a meal along side with them -- in doing this like this, this meal was really something impressive to talk about. That's certainly true. But, looking at it some, this doesn't really look all quite that pretty of a scene. How's that [you might be wondering?]

10. Please consider how that tax collectors were generally rich and what's more it was through their ill gotten accumulation of wealth. The Pharisees were the ones here criticizing what Jesus did. The Pharisees usually worked with their hands and maintained their economic independence. It was like Paul did in making tents. On the other hand, Jesus of Nazareth and his group did not seem to make a self sufficient living in any way. In each of the Gospel accounts scenes come into the foreground where Jesus and his group would let themselves take meals with different people. This meal too was a big to do that Levi held. If a meal like that were for a person of the Pharisees, it would probably be a subject for gossip even after he died. A Pharisee would never ever ever think, even if his life fell to pieces to the nth degree, to eat with "the Philistines" or receive funding from these heathens who had neither interest nor concern for God's law or the kingdom of God. It was not possible for them to scold him with "You'll take anybody for a friend if he's rich enough." That's the scene we have here. Because of their caliber, the Pharisee scribes by nature would not speak ill of Jesus directly to his face. They grabbed hold of his disciples and reproved them with, "Why does he eat meals with tax collectors and sinners?"

11. So as we see, I don't think it's possible to describe what Jesus did in simple terms like "He lived along with the poor and "the pitiable" who were rejected by society. [He lived and did more than] that, Jesus was not only with "the pitiable" but he was with sinners in the literal sense of the term. When speaking of sins, whether people are rich or they are poor, whether they stand on the side of the rejecters or are the ones being rejected, whether they are on the side of the oppressors or are the ones being oppressed, sinners are sinners. When a person is broken off from God because of sin, he or she is a sinner. Therefore, while Jesus was allowing the rich to feed him a meal, he did not hesitate to make this declaration, "The reason I came was not to call the righteous, but to call the sinner," (verse seventeen). The Lord's words were right. -- Because Levi also was a sinner whom Jesus had called. And generations of Christians have identified themselves with that same image.

12. The reason Jesus calls sinners is to save them from sin. As Jesus compared himself to a doctor, he did so because the reason Jesus called sinners was to heal their sin sickness. Because they will die left as they are, because they will be destroyed by their sins, Jesus calls sinners. For that reason then, called sinners have from of old made the following prayer to Christ the true doctor, "O Christ Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner."

13. This is the Lord's table to which Jesus calls us. We surround this table of his and worship each week. A person ignorant of what a hospital is will be surprised that so many sick are in the hospital. A person ignorant of what the Lord's church is will be surprised that there are sinners in the church. "How could a person like this be in church? If that's what church is I'll not go no more." People who say that are ignorant of what the Lord's table is. Those who truly realize that they are sinners and had they not partaken of the Lord's mercy they would have perished, these kind of people will keep praying for others to be healed, they take pleasure in the Lords's call and expect themselves to gather for meetings with the Lord. That's the kind of table this table is.

 
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