In Mark 2:14, Jesus passed by the tax booth and called Levi to follow Him. Levi (later known as Matthew) got up immediately and went after Jesus. Later that day, Jesus entered Levi’s house for a meal. Many of the tax collectors – Levi’s friends, no doubt, and others identified simply as ‘sinners’ – had gathered and joined in the meal.
Never far away from where Jesus was, the Pharisees and the scribes looked on with disdain and sneered, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?’
Hearing them, Jesus replied, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:17
Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘Why would God ever use me? I’ve messed up so much.’ But what if God’s interest in using you in His kingdom is not based on your performance but on His sovereign choice? What if, despite your mistakes in life, God still believes in you and calls you to a close relationship with Him? What if you didn’t have to be “good enough” for God? What if God took care of that for you? What if God called ordinary sinners to Himself rather than perfect people?
That is precisely what this passage in Mark 2 is all about. Jesus called into His inner circle an ‘outcast’ in the eyes of the religious folks. And that is good news!
In those days, tax collectors were deeply despised by the Israelites. Even today, most of us are not fond of bill collectors or the IRS. Back then, it was worse. Tax collectors had power to extract money from the people for the Roman government, and they were allowed to keep a percentage for themselves. Corruption was rampant.
Furthermore, Levi was a Jew which made it even worse! His fellow Israelites looked upon any Jew who worked for the Romans as a traitor, especially the tax collectors. They were excommunicated from the synagogues along with their entire families.
So for Jesus to call a tax collector was not only unexpected by unthinkable in the minds of the religious crowd.
Jesus addressed their attitude directly and without apology. “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Levi was a sinner. Jesus called him, and Levi got up and followed him. Understand that this was no small thing. If things didn’t go well for Peter and Andrew or for James and John they could always go back to fishing.
Not so for Levi. A tax collector’s job was hard to come by and if you lost that job, you’d never get it back. Besides that, just having ‘tax collector’ in your resume would disqualify you for almost any job thereafter!
When Levi got up from his tax booth, it was a one way ticket. He knew what he was doing. That’s why Luke reports this event by saying, ‘Levi left everything to follow Christ. (Luke 5:28)
It was the Pharisees who weren’t too happy with this. They pulled the disciples aside and asked them, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” This was not an innocent question but an outright accusation. They went nuts. This was a scandal worthy of the gossip columns! This broke all their rules. You didn’t eat with Gentiles. You didn’t associate with sinners. This was as big a scandal to them as your pastor hanging out at the local bar.
The opening chapters of Mark expose a growing escalation of hostility towards Jesus on the part of the Jewish religious leaders. In verse 6 of this chapter the teachers of the law simply thought accusing thoughts about Jesus in their minds. (Mark 2:6) Now here in verse 16 they speak out, but just to Jesus’ disciples. (Mark 2:16) In verse 24 they address Jesus directly (Mark 2:24), and by the time you get to chapter 3 they begin plotting to kill him (Mark 3:6). That’s quite a progression in a very short time!
Jesus welcomed sinners, and the Pharisees were disgusted by them. Jesus accepted those whom the Pharisees deemed unacceptable. In fact, He declared those were the ones He came for!
Don’t you love the way sinners flocked to Jesus in the gospels? They obviously felt comfortable with Him;. they felt loved and accepted. They were attracted to His teachings and Jesus was obviously glad to be with them.
What about us? Do we have the attitude of Jesus? Are we as concerned as He was about ‘sinners’? About those who don’t know about Him, about the good news of His salvation?
Most people’s lives revolve around three places. Work, home, and what I call ‘third places’ – places we go outside of work and home. For many Christians, the church and church activities become their only ‘third’ place.
But our non-believing friends in the community have different third places. And if we never intersect with them in their third places, how will we ever communicate Christ to them?
We need to meet the people of our community where they are – at work and in our homes and in their ‘third’ places and share Christ’s love with them through friendship. Jesus is a friend of sinners. A doctor who avoids the sick isn’t much of a doctor.
In no way am I advocating that you go to the local bar. But there are plenty of acceptable places to interact with our neighbors, our co-workers and the general public. As we go about our daily life, let’s not be so busy that we don’t even notice the people around us.
Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us sensitive and aware of others; to make us sensitive to His inner prompting to smile at this one, or speak to that one. Sometimes all it takes to open a door for the Gospel is to have a cup of coffee with a neighbor.
“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Jesus called sinners to follow him. He called sinners to fellowship with him. Jesus called sinners to repentance.
Freely have you received His gift of salvation; freely give it away.
And what better time than right now.