Photo by Alvimann on Morgue File.
Here is our next pericope to consider from Mark’s gospel:
He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. (Mark 2.13-14, ESV)
As if Jesus did not raise enough eyebrows by confessing a man’s sins to be forgiven; and then, going the extra mile (which I think is something Jesus taught too!), he then heals the man of his paralysis−now Jesus goes and buddies up to a man in a notorious, hated profession: a tax collector!
Jesus, it seems, did not mind being controversial! Nor did he mind ruffling a few feathers along the way!
Out of all the people he could have chosen to be one of his intimate friends (a disciple) he chose Levi (a.k.a. Matthew) the tax collector (or publican). You have to be kidding me, I am sure was said more than once that day!
We can glean several things from this short passage. First, Jesus once again returned to the sea. No, not the Mediterranean, but the Sea of Galilee. Okay, it is really a glorified lake, but it still comes out in the end to be the same thing!
Again, I stress to any class I teach a foundational tool for bible study (at least in my humble opinion): ask questions of the text. Asking questions of the text helps the reader/student to stay grounded in the context of the passage. In real estate the mantra is: location, location, location. In hermeneutics the mantra is: context, context, context.
It has been said, “text without context leads to pretext.” Or, “content without context is impossible.”
Asking questions of the text also helps the reader/student to fully grasp the nuances of the text. It helps him/her to see the details and not hurry past to the conclusion. In short, it stimulates our brains to think through the passage in a thoughtful, considerate way.
So, end of commercial and back to the issue at hand: why did Jesus go back to the Sea of Galilee? (Cue the Jeopardy music!)
He went there again and again for a very simple reason: that is where the people were! Now yes, they were other places as well. Not everyone hung out on the Galilean shores; but, many people were there all the time. So, Jesus went to the people. In our last pericope, we saw how the people thronged to Jesus. Here we see the opposite: Jesus going to them.
Another question: what was his purpose in going there to where the people were? The passage tells us . . . to teach them. Jesus was a communicator. He was a preacher. He was a teacher. He did not take on flesh to sit on some high, exalted mountain and from time to time throw down platitudes to a select group of learners. He did not come to be put on a pedestal and sit in solemn silence.
No, Jesus came to be immersed in humanity. He came to be amongst the people. He came to teach and preach. He came to set them free! He came to dirty his hands in the stuff of humanity.
And there he is, thronged by the people as he walks along the shore. He is not carrying on small talk with them; rather, he is teaching them the word of God. He is, I am sure, teaching them of the promise of Messiah and the coming of the gospel.
Mark tells us, and as he passed by, he saw . . . this is no meeting of coincidence. This is no chance, random meeting. He passed by that day because he knew Matthew would be sitting right where he was. He did not just happen to glance over and see him, he knew exactly where he was. Part of his purpose that day was, not only to teach the crowd, but to single one out from among them: Levi the tax collector.
Tax collectors were not highly thought of in those days . . . and that is putting it nicely! They were viewed as sinners: the vilest of the vile, the most wicked of the wicked. They were seen as traitors of their own people and nation.
Out of everyone, he had to choose him?
I am sure many were scratching their heads. I wonder what Matthew’s reaction was. We are not told much about it, besides his obedience to Christ’s call. I would think there had to be some measure of shock, at least initially. For that matter, what propelled Matthew to obey this calling?
What was it about Christ that caused Matthew to leave his livelihood behind and follow him? It seems, based on the four accounts in the gospels, that Peter, Andrew, James and John had been around Jesus a few times before they were called to be disciples(compare Mt. 4.18-22; Mk. 1.16-20; Lk. 5.1-11; and Jn. 1.35-51); but, in regards to Matthew, we are not told that he was.
Again, as we have discussed before, scripture is laconic, meaning it does not tell us everything. So, it is possible Matthew had heard Jesus teach and preach. It is possible he had seen him perform miracles. It is possible he had heard reports of Jesus’ acts from others. Whatever the case may be, when Jesus called Matthew to follow him: Matthew obeyed.
Here was a man, a sinner, in the eyes of his contemporaries, but one who accepted the call of Christ and put his faith in him. A man who, though considered vile, did what many of the righteous of his day did not do: trust Christ as Messiah, as Savior. Of course, we know the rest of the story. Matthew would go on to write one of the four gospels detailing the life and ministry of Christ. A man who went from a tax collector to a gospel writer! God’s grace shines brightly in his life!
Are there people that we consider to be the worst of the worst? Are there people we despise because of what they do? Are they beyond the grace and call of Christ? Grace answers in thundering reply: NO!
For many in his day, Matthew would have been written off. He would have been seen as a hopeless case. He would have been deemed unworthy of their time and efforts.
Are there people I/you have written off? Are there people we have judged to be unworthy of our time and efforts? Of a kind word, a humble act, a display of Christ’s love?
Jesus, help me to love those I consider unlovable. Help me to show forth the love and grace of Christ to any and all I meet. Help me to be gracious in attitude, not judgmental. Help me to be loving in action, not condemning. Help to be edifying in speech, not insulting. Help me to proclaim the glorious truth of your gospel, for your glory and honor. Amen.