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So then, Jesus called Matthew (a.k.a. Levi) and he has abandoned his tax-collecting post and has followed Christ. Implied, of course, is that this is no temporary situation. This is not simply an afternoon of vacation time for Matthew, to see a miracle or two and receive some good rabbinical teaching, before returning to the ball and chain the next day. No! Matthew has permanently clocked out. He has quit. He has resigned his position. He is now unemployed!
Quite a step. Quite a commitment is it not?!
Today, we will round out this episode concerning Jesus and Matthew. Here then is our next pericope from the Gospel account of Mark:
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark. 2. 15-17, ESV)
The escalation in tension and conflict between Jesus and the religious elite will continue to intensify. We have already been given previews of this in Mark’s account.
There were hints to it in chapter one. In the pericope dealing with Jesus healing the demonic, those who witnessed it were astonished (v. 22a), why? They were astonished, because, he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes (v. 22b). This sort of opinion certainly would not have taken long to reach the ears of said scribes. In fact, it is very likely there were some standing there that day who heard the crowd’s opinions concerning Jesus and his authority.
We saw it in the healing of the paralytic. When the religious elite were sitting there and thinking to themselves, [w]hy does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone (2.7)?
As we move through Mark’s account, we will see this tension grow more and more. Of course, it will eventually culminate in the death of Christ.
In our present pericope, we find Jesus hob-nobbing, as it were, with a rather motley band, at least in some eyes. These people are tax-collectors and sinners! No self-respecting rabbi or teacher of the Torah would go near such a brood of filth and sin!
Yet, there is Jesus right in the thick of them!
In the religious elite’s way of thinking, it is one thing to be a sinner; but, it is something else entirely to be a sinner! These folk were considered by them to be the worse of the worst. They were cast-offs, the undesirables. They were unmentionables. They were the dregs of society. They were obviously those whom God had rejected and, therefore, the leaders had no time to waste on such persons.
Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2 that we all were once such as they. We all were once sinners, lost in our sin and rebellion against a holy God. We all were guilty of transgressing God’s holy law. We all deserved the wrath and condemnation of a righteous God.
I am thankful that Christ ate with sinners. I am thankful that he ministered to the outcasts of society. I am thankful that he heard the cry of a blind Bartimaeus. I am thankful that he dirtied his hands in the stuff of humanity. For when he did, he reached down to a worm such as I!
What Jesus did here was against their customs. It was against their decency and decorum. He broke the cultural morés and taboos of his day. He reached out to those that others avoided. He spoke and listened to those others ignored. He healed those whom others saw as a waste of time. He loved those others hated.
We all have played the part of the Pharisee, probably more times than we would care to admit! We all have need to be silent in the presence of Jesus and learn of him as a true disciple. For we all have our moments when our hearts cry out, in prejudice, anger and bigotry, Why is Jesus doing that? Why is he associated with someone like that? Why would he save that wretch? Why would he call that person to follow him?
Yes, playing that role comes rather easily, does it not?
They asked the question to his disciples, but Jesus was the one who answered! He may have done so because he knew his newly called disciples were not ready to answer such questions. If so, this was grace. He may have done so because he knew his disciples were thinking something of the same thing! If so, this was grace. Or, he may have done so because this biting, accusing question needed to be answered by the Master himself. If so, this was grace and warning.
Jesus answer is succinct. It is pointed. It speaks of mercy. It speaks of judgment. It foreshadows salvation. It unveils hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
These sinners with whom Jesus dined knew they were sinners. They knew their need. Now, that is not to say they all came to accept him. No, there were many of these who would utterly reject Christ out of their own pride and rebellion. And too, there were many of the religious elite who would come to accept Jesus as the Christ. But, Jesus ministers to those who give him the opportunity.
In Matthew’s home, he found an open pulpit. In Matthew’s home he found a lot who were hungering and thirsting for something more than what was prepared on Matthew’s table. There he found those who were desperately ill with a disease far worse than blindness or paralysis: sin and death.
And so he ate with them, so he could share with them the Bread of Life. So he drank with them, so he could give them Living Waters. So he fellowshipped with them, so he could give them a relationship with God the Father. So he talked with them, so he could share with them the good news of the Gospel.
He entered their sin, to bring them holiness. He surrounded himself with their lostness, to bring them salvation. He entered their night, to shine as the Light.
In a very real way, Jesus gave his life for and to sinners long before Calvary.
Are you sick? Or as the apostle Paul says, dead in sin? There is only One who can bring you out. There is only One who brings resurrection to the soul and body. That One is Christ!
Do you feel your need for him? Do you sense your longing for his touch?
As then, so now, Jesus is the Savior of sinners, the Forgiver of sins, the Life to our death, the Redeemer of our sins, the Light to our darkness, the Christ to our filth, the God to our humanity.
Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rm. 10.9