Mark 2:13-17 is a short passage with two connected stories. In the first story Jesus is out by the lake. The crowds come so he begins teaching them. No classroom is depicted, no “sit down and do your lesson,” for Jesus. Jesus takes them on a walk, right up to the tax collector’s booth. What a great place for a lesson! Come on Jesus, tell us how evil this collaborator is! Tell us how you’re going to lead us to stand up against Rome and these hired leeches!
Levi’s sitting there doing his job. He is a collaborator. He is working for the occupiers. He’d make a great object lesson. But Jesus doesn’t treat him like an object. Jesus treats him like a person. “Levi! Come follow me!” And Levi gets up and follows Jesus. There’s no sign that Levi knew what was in store for him, what his future held. He just got up and followed Jesus.
Since we see in the next part of the text that Jesus was partying at his house, Levi must have felt pretty safe with Jesus. Levi felt so safe, in fact, that he invited all his friends – his fellow sinners. Again, there’s no sign of what they made of partying with Jesus, but they seemed to do it with abandon.
Not everyone was excited about Jesus’ lesson plan for the day. The Pharisees, neither invited to the party nor interested in being invited, stood on the outskirts and looked in. They knew what was happening. This messianic pretender Jesus was giving the lie to his claims of holiness and God-chosennes. The disciples, likely confused about Jesus’ actions, were hanging on the edges also. They loved Jesus, but weren’t too sure about the riff raff he was attracting. Seeing the bewildered disciples, the Pharisees drive in the wedge: “How come your master is eating with those people, those sinners?” I bet the disciples were wondering that themselves. We don’t know which one it was, but one of them finally worked up the courage to approach Jesus. “Uh, teacher, why are we here? What are we doing with these sinners?” Jesus had a ready answer. “Those who are well don’t need a physician, but the sick do. I didn’t come to call the righteous but the sinners.”
I notice here that Jesus hasn’t done anything distinctively or exclusively religious. He’s asked someone to follow him. He’s accepted an invitation to dinner. He’s spending time with people.
I also notice that when the disciples hung out with Jesus they found themselves in questionable company and questionable situations.
I’m praying for the ability of folks in our churches to see people – the Levi’s and their friends – the way Jesus did; to take the time to get on their turf; to build friendships so outsiders feel safe. I’m praying for us to get out of our buildings and go to the people, wherever they might be. I’m praying for us to get involved in more questionable situations with more questionable company.