Today in our sixth day walking together through Mark, we look at Mark 2:13-17. This passage is called Jesus Calls Levi.
Jesus Calls Levi
13 Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Levi is Matthew the tax collect, the Apostle and author of the Gospel Matthew. Matthew is the Greek form of his name, Levi is the Hebrew form of his name. Well, why would Levi (Matthew) go by two names? Especially when unlike Peter, Jesus didn’t change his name?
Well, that had a lot to do with his job and why the Jews HATED the tax collectors. We joke about tax collectors and the IRS and how no one likes tax collectors. This isn’t that. There were no more despised by the Jews than tax collectors. Maybe the Samaritans, but it would be close.
Why were tax collectors so hated? To the Jewish people, the tax collectors were traitors. They were Jews who betrayed their people and worked for the Romans. And even worse, the majority of tax collector were seen as thieves. What the tax collectors would do would be they that tell someone they owed a certain amount of money to Rome. Then, they would go and collect from them double or triple that amount. And if the person could not pay it they would suffer the consequences from the Roman army.
So basically the tax collectors use the power of the Roman army to steal from their own people. So, in short, they were thieves, they were traitors, and they associated with Gentiles. Religiously, socially, politically, economically, every possible way that you could be hated, they were.
In Jesus day, tax collectors were truly despised.
If you were able to worship with us Sunday at St. Matthew’s, in my sermon we talked about how in Jesus’ culture, and still today, to share a meal with someone is a powerful thing, it is an act of acceptance, of friendship, of basically become family. So, what then does it say that Jesus shared a meal with Levi (Matthew) and other tax collectors? By the way, pay attention in all the Gospels to who all Jesus shares a meal with. He eats with everyone, tax collectors, “sinners,” Pharisees. He loved and loves the world.
In this act of eating with Matthew and his fellow tax collectors, Jesus is saying this. I love you. But notice this. He doesn’t just accept them and it ends there. Levi (Matthew) leaves behind tax collecting and follows Jesus as a Disciple. He doesn’t just leave him there, but Jesus comes, loves, and calls. Calls Levi to follow Him. Calls him to leave behind his past, his mistakes, all that he has done. And follow Jesus. And Levi does.
Now, look at the response of the religious leaders. They can’t believe that Jesus is doing this. I’ll unpack later why the religious leaders get so upset at Jesus, but for now, just know this, its misplaced passion. They actually, in their minds, are trying to honor God, but they are doing it completely, totally, wrong.
And Jesus says this, He has come for this sick, not the righteous. Now, we know that none are righteous, so Jesus is speaking hyperbolic here. He’s making a point. What is that point? It’s better to know that you are weak and sinful and need help than to think you are stronger than you really are, and never ask for the help you need.
Today, Jesus calls and eats with tax collectors. And He calls us wherever we are. May we be like Levi. May we follow, wherever He calls us!
Tomorrow we’ll look at Mark 2:18-28.
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