|SINNERS AND TAX COLLECTORS AND
SICK PEOPLE. OH MY!
Series: In His Steps - Part Six
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 5, 2004
Please turn with me to Mark 2:13-17.
Over the past few Sundays we’ve been looking at the early ministry of Jesus - thinking together about what it means to follow Jesus. We’ve seen God the Father declare Jesus to be the Savior of humankind. Watched Jesus preparing for ministry - identifying with us - who we are - where we live our lives. Seen Jesus move forward in ministry - demonstrating His authority to forgive sins and bring healing to our lives. We saw Jesus call disciples to follow Him in His ministry. Last Sunday we saw that we are partners with Jesus a we serve God together. (Mark 1:1-2:12)
Coming to Mark 2 - verse 13 - we’re coming to a familiar - and uncomfortable - scene. These verses focus on prejudice - the ideas and attitudes we have towards people that hinder us as we desire to follow Jesus - to partner together in His ministry.
Look with me at this scene and then we’ll come back and make some observations.
Mark 2:13: And He - Jesus - went out again by the seashore; - at Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee - and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him.
Levi worked as a tax collector - in a toll booth - probably on the road that ran from Damascus through Capernaum and out to the Mediterranean Sea. As a tax collector - who wasn't paid a salary - Levi’s occupation was to extort money from people who traveled along this road. He lived off of what he could steal. He was a government sponsored thief.
Levi was probably really hated by his people. To the Jews - Levi was a traitor - a collaborator with the Roman Government - who stole from his own people.
Verse 15: And it happened that He - Jesus - was reclining at the table in his house
Levi is leaving town. He’s following Jesus. Wherever Jesus is going Levi is going. So Levi gives himself a going away party - invites all of his friends.
Going on in verse 15 - and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him.
Don’t miss that. “There were many of them.” That’s an understatement. “They were following Him” Who are they? The tax-collectors and sinners. Who are they following? Jesus.
Imagine this. Crowded into Levi’s home - sitting around one table - are all the tax collectors - all the extortionists from Capernaum. And the sinners - those who refused to keep the Mosaic Law - the despised - the social outcasts - Levi’s former drinking buddies and gambling partners.
In the middle of all this sits Jesus - not lecturing them about what kind of sinful people they are. Jesus is just sitting - eating and drinking and sharing with them as their friend. And, they’re following Him - listening - seeking to understand what His words mean for their lives.
Verse 16: When the scribes of the Pharisees - the teachers of the law - the religious leaders - When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?"
The religious leaders came and saw all this and were absolutely appalled at Jesus behavior. This is the crowd that the religious leaders would never - in a million years - never have had anything to do with. No self-respecting Jew would have had any dealings with these people. They asked Jesus' disciples, "Doesn't He know who those people are? How can He even let Himself be seen with people like that? Sinners and tax-collectors and sick people. Oh My!"
Verse 17: And hearing this - the prejudice - the attitude - of the scribes - and hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners."
Jesus - as only He can - takes the question the Scribes raised - "How can He eat with those kinds of people?" - and points it back at them. "I came for the sinners."
Underline that statement in your Bible. Its one of the most important statements in Mark. One of the most important statements in the Bible - the explanation of why Jesus came and who He came for. "You're right, these are sick, hurting people - wounded - and damaged by their lifestyle - damaged and separated from God by sin. They don't see life correctly. They're sick men and they need a doctor. I've come to heal men. So this is where I need to be. I came not to call the righteous; but sinners."
In thinking about how this scene applies to us - there are two observations I’d like to share with you this morning. First, is that WE NEED TO ADMIT OUR OWN PREDJUICE.
I appreciate listening to guests of the congregation - or people I run into in the community who tell me that our congregation is very friendly - welcoming. We need to feel good about that. Give the person next to you a high five. Tell them, “Good job!”
We need to feel good about where we are. But, we can’t rest there.
There’s a story about two apples up in a tree who were looking down on the world. The first apple said, "Look at all those people fighting, robbing, rioting - no one seems willing to get along with his fellow man. Someday we apples will be the only ones left. Then we will rule the world."
The second apple asked, "Which of us - the reds or the greens?" Have you ever been to a banquet where the seating was arranged in advance - assigned seating? That’s no easy job. Arranging seating. Who sits with whom. Who should sit as far away from whom as possible.
Imagine if it was that way on Sunday mornings and in the rest of our ministry together. If we only wanted to sit in church in our places with our people - if we just replaced our seating positions from those hard yellow pews - remember those - replaced them with our new assigned positions on these comfortable cushy teal green chairs. What if we only participated in ministries that benefited us - or made us feel comfortable - or kept us in contact with the people we’re comfortable with.
If we acted like that - who would want to be a part of this congregation? Who would be interested in hearing us share the Gospel?
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the time when Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John - the fisherman - and Jesus said, "Follow Me, and I will teach you how to fish for men." (Mark 1:16-20)
Sadly, the church in America is often described as a group of fisherman - out in a boat - not casting nets into the water - but waiting for the fish to jump in the boat - and then clubbing them. If we're prejudiced - then we'll only club the fish we want to keep in the boat.
The Scribes were not religiously ignorant. They were well studied - reasonably theologically sound - God fearing men - who cared deeply about their beliefs and the practice of their faith. They were doing the right stuff. High five type of stuff. But in this matter they were blind to their own prejudice. Their focus was on their rules and regulations and traditions and prejudices towards people - and not on what God wanted to do in them and through them.
In the Gospels - Jesus is constantly pushing His followers and the people around Him - pushing them out of their comfort zone - constantly challenging the religious status quo - the accepted traditions and prejudices of those around Him.
Because we need to be challenged - pushed out of our comfort zone. Otherwise it would be easy to come here - to our church - to worship in our way - do the welcoming thing - and then go on visiting with our friends and our family - spending our time doing what’s most important to us - and never really accomplishing anything of importance for the Kingdom of God.
It would be so easy for us to read through this familiar scene - to condemn the attitude of the religious leaders as spiritual prejudice - and then to skim past our own attitudes towards others who need Jesus. As soon as we say that we’re beyond this we’ve blinded ourselves to what God can do in us.
We don’t want to be like that. Right? Can we agree together that we have a ways to go on this? Admit that we just might be prejudiced?
The second observation is that WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND JESUS’ PREJUDICE. The attitude Jesus had towards those around Him.
Here in Mark 2 - we read that Jesus called Levi to follow Him. Levi was the name that his parents had given him - his birth name. Jesus was probably the one who changed Levi's name to Matthew. Jesus had done that to several of the disciples. Given them new names. Simon became Peter - the "rock." James and John became the "Sons of Thunder." Levi became Matthew - meaning "Gift of God."
The religious leaders - self-respecting Jews - saw Levi as a traitor and a thief. Jesus saw something different in Matthew. Jesus saw him as a "Gift of God."
Remember Genesis? Chapter one? In Genesis 1:26, God says, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness." Then in verse 27 this incredible statement: "God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created Him: male and female He created them."
Turn to the person next to you and share this with them, "You are the image of God."
When God sees us He sees His image. Jesus - looking at sinners - sees past the tax collector - wounded and in sin - sees the image of God. Levi becomes Matthew.
Do you see yourself that way?
There’s a tremendous comfort for us in Jesus’ answer, “I came for sinners.” Jesus didn't come looking for righteous people to be friends with. He came for wounded people - hurting people - people who have no place to turn - sinners desperate for a way out of their sins. He came for people like us. And He offers us healing if we’ll follow Him.
It doesn't matter how deep the hole we're in or how far we gone from God - all He asks is that we choose to follow Him and He will lead us to His perfect healing.
Do you see others that way? As the image of God?
Let me suggest something that might be helpful to you. Take some time this week and stop by McDonald’s out here on Olive - or Taco Smell up on “G” street - at around 12:30 or so - when Merced High is out for lunch. Get a Mountain Dew Code Red - and just watch people. Go to the Merced Mall - or Main Street - and just watch people.
Ask yourself, “Self, what do you see?”
Beyond the piercings and tattoos and women who can’t afford clothes that cover their midsections - its easy to see that. But do you see the image of God - waiting for someone to tell them that God loves them? I struggle with this - when someone cuts me off in traffic. My first reaction isn’t, “Well, there’s someone created in the image of God.” But it should be. I find myself avoiding people because of what they look like. That’s not casting the nets out of the boat.
The image is tarnished - beat up - crumpled - wounded. But, still the image of God in need of healing. As we’re passing people - are we praying for them? When we encounter people - are we looking for ways to share Jesus with them? As a congregation - are we doing everything possible to reach others with the Gospel?
We need to ask ourselves: How do we reach them - what connects? Merced - Atwater - Planada - Chowchilla - people who are very different . How do we share the Gospel - God’s love with them? The answers may push us out of our comfort zones. But, so what! Isn’t the healing of lives and the eternal destiny of people worth our discomfort?
Beyond their beliefs the religious leaders - the Scribes - were actually more needy than the social outcasts and "sinners" they looked down on. They were in deeper trouble than the tax collectors. Jesus tells us that while the Pharisees were caught up in their intellectual arguments and religious practices - while they were avoiding Jesus - the "sinners" realized the emptiness of their lives and were more than willing to follow Him.
Which is the judgment that Jesus pronounced on their lives. He took their question about being with sinners and turned it around towards them. They - the self-proclaimed "righteous" needed healing just as much at those who were the more obvious sinners.
Who did Jesus come for? Us? All of us. Communion is a celebration of what? His sacrificial death for us? His offer of salvation to all humankind.
Do you believe that? God created you - died on the cross for you - His image. Who are we to tarnish the image of God with our prejudice towards ourselves or others? Who are we to isolate ourselves from the responsibility to share His Gospel with those who desperately need to hear it - simply because they don't fit our comfort zone of Christianity?
_________________________Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.