Reflection #2 for Sunday, March 8, 2020
(Photo: Jon Tyson, Unsplash.com)
Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
Mark 2:13-17 (NRSVA).
Immediately following Jesus seeing the faith of the paralytic and his friends – and the unfaith of the religious leaders – we are presented with another account that reveals what Jesus sees.
Our story begins again with a crowd and Jesus’ teaching. Quickly, however, the story focuses on one who has not come to hear. While the crowds gathered, Levi remained at his tax booth.
Jesus, however, did not see a rebel. He did not label this man as a Jewish traitor opportunistically making money out of Rome’s occupation. Many did. In the eyes of most, taxing fellow Jews for profit, forfeited one’s place among the children of Abraham. Levi is an outsider.
Yet Jesus invitation to ‘Follow Me’ is embraced as quickly and wholeheartedly as when it was presented to others seemingly more worthy. All the echoes are here of the call of Simon, Andrew, James, and John on lake Galilee.
Their occupation, however, did not amount to treason.
This is essentially why the account of Levi gives us new insight into what Jesus saw. His is a generous, wide, wall-destroying vision.
And once again, it causes offence. After all, this is not simply a telling of Jesus’ calling Levi ‘from’ – it is Jesus calling himself ‘to’.
After all Jesus immediately finds himself surrounded by the wrong kind of people. This is no crowd of seekers. This is a meal, a joining with – no embracing – of ‘tax collectors’ and ‘sinners’. In going to Levi’s home and eating with those present, Jesus has jumped a boundary fence no respected rabbi would cross.
Jesus has invited himself to dine with the unclean.
And once again, Jesus behaviour is noticed. The religious establishment poses their thinly disguised question: ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’
It is slyly put to his disciples. We are fortunate, however, that Jesus overheard and answers for himself: ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
What did the scribes of the Pharisees see? A compromised rabbi poorly representing a holy God among an unclean people.
What did Jesus see? People in need of his services. Grace. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Invitation.
Jesus sees the lost and finds his place among them.
How do you respond to the widening of the call to follow Jesus that this passage represents? Is this good news or bad news?
Which characters do you most readily identify with in this account?
In what ways do you see as Jesus sees? In what ways d you see differently?