16 October 2021Mark 2:13-17
'Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?' (v. 16)
Today’s reading brings together a number of themes seen in earlier passages this week – Jesus' calling of disciples and their instant response; the crowds of people following Jesus; active engagement with those who were normally seen as outcasts; and increasing conflict with the religious leaders.
The discussion between Jesus and the scribes of the Pharisees again focuses on the sinfulness of those that Jesus is mixing with. On this occasion, however, it's not a person’s illness or disability that accounts for their sin, but the job they have. Levi is a tax-collector, probably employed under the area’s ruler Herod Antipas. In the similar account in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 9:9-13) the tax collector is called Matthew, and while there is debate, many assume Levi in this story to be the same person.
Tax-collectors were notoriously dishonest. They also worked for authorities who were seen as oppressive foreigners, and through their work would mix a great deal with those from outside the Jewish faith. They would therefore have been disliked not only by the religious authorities but by the wider population as well. So for Jesus not only to explicitly call Levi but also to sit down in his house for a meal would seem truly scandalous. It was one thing for Jesus to call poor fishermen – at least they were hardworking honest local folk. It was another to heal the sick and disabled, as right-minded people were not completely prepared to believe their predicament was really their fault. However it was completely astounding to forgive the sins of a tax-collector, someone who chose that role, colluded with the enemy and took payments for it.
By sitting down and eating with sinners and tax-collectors, something that Mark repeats three times to underline the astonishing point (vs 15-16), Jesus is making it explicit that the good news he has come to proclaim, and the kingdom of God which he declares has come near, is for all people, whatever their background or status.`
- We often pray in church services for those with caring roles, teachers and church leaders, but rarely for those in the financial industry such as bankers, accountants and tax collectors. Yet their roles are fundamental to our society. Take time to pray for them and the work they do.
- Have you heard Jesus say to you, “Follow me”? What has been your response?
- Are there particular types of people you would find it hard to sit down and share a meal with? Do you or they need to change to make this easier?