Friday 08 January 2016

Bible Book:

“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.’” (vv. 16-17)

Mark 2:13-17 (Jesus calls Levi) Friday 8 January 2016

Psalm: Psalm 5:1-8


The theme of forgiveness continues from yesterday's passageabout the healing of the paralytic. Both passages are full ofsurprises that subvert common assumptions about how forgivenessworks:

  • God forgives the penitent
  • those who are notorious 'sinners' might be tolerated in thelife of the church but certainly cannot be part of the innercircle.

However we find that in yesterday's reading Jesus offeredforgiveness to a man on the basis of the faith of his friends(verse 5) and not of his own confession of sin; today Jesus isfound choosing as disciples people that no self-respecting personwould be seen dead with (verse 14).

It is hard for us to comprehend the force of the term 'taxcollector'. Collaborator is part of it; extortionist is another.Tax collectors, though, also have emblematic status in the Gospels,like the 'harlots, publicans and thieves' of Charles Wesley's18th-century hymn, 'Where shall my wondering soul begin?'. Whatwould the equivalent phrase be today? 'Scroungers, junkies andpoliticians'?

The difficulty with finding any such terms to sum up what wethink sin might be in our own social context is that we locate itoutside of ourselves and not within. The difficulty also is that wefail to notice the inverted commas around the 'sinners' with whomJesus is associating. Jesus' somewhat ironic point in verse 17 isnot that the people he was eating with were without sin, nor thatthose who think themselves righteous or even behave righteously area different category of person who can be tainted by contact withthe rest of humanity, but that:

  • all of us are in need of God's grace
  • God meets us even in our sin - even before we can identifywhatever it is that we might need to repent.

In the contemporary Methodist hymn book,Singing the Faith (no454) the phrase about harlots, publicans and thieves has beenreplaced. Now it reads: "Outcasts to you, yes, you I call, Christ'slove invites you to believe". Changing the language perhaps makessome things clearer whilst it obscures others, but how do werecognise the truth that some of those we think of as 'sinners'might be nearer the kingdom of God than some of us who struggle toknow what our sins might be?

To Ponder

  • Who are the groups of people that get cast as 'sinners' in ourculture and how fair are those labels?
  • What sense does it make to you to think of yourself as asinner?
  • What or who helps you to find your repentance and change yourways where that is needful?
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