Jesus and Sinners

Mark 2:13-17

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:9; Luke 5:27-28

Still in Galilee, Jesus calls another disciple, and this time He has a questionable choice: Levi (Matthew) the tax collector. Tax collectors are none too popular in our day, but back then they were outright crooks in most cases. They would be informed of the amount they had to collect, and whatever they collected over and above that amount would be theirs to keep. Oh yes, this was all nice and legal under Roman law. So say you are a tax collector and you are supposed to collect $100.00 from 10 people. Let’s see, if you can get $10.00 from each one, you could turn the money over to the authorities and be done, but your family would go hungry. If you collected $ 12.50 eacn, you’d make $25.00 and maybe that would be fair, but if you could force them to pay $150.00 each, even better!

So, let’s see; where was I? Oh yes, they were unpopular indeed!

Jesus called Levi to discipleship, and then they go to a party with tax collectors and other unsavory characters: The stage is set for another round with His critics.

Many tax collectors and other sinners were following Jesus around as He taught. I wouldn’t be surprised if the tax collectors were there because their “marks” were there… but the text doesn’t actually say so. If we were Pharisees, I’m sure that the mere fact that questionable sorts were listening to Jesus and becoming His followers would give us cause to wonder what He was really up to. Well, think about it like a Pharisee would!

Then, this dinner party!

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:15-17

Obviously, these Pharisees were bigoted, judgmental jerks. They see the kinds of folks Jesus is with and they draw conclusions about everybody, and we can all feel comfortable saying they were judgmental, bigots, and clearly obnoxious, after all why wouldn’t we? They are just like most of us!

“Hey Bud, if you’re such a Christian, why are you hanging out with those people?

Jesus had a rather creative answer for them: “Those people” are precisely the people who need to be saved!

I have known quite a few Christians who would never hang with the wrong crowd, and they have all kinds of reasons for their choice, some of which are reasonable. Some of the reasons are not very reasonable, with my all time favorite being that the person was simply not going to be subjected to the language that sinners use. I remember a sermon given by a young associate minister one time about sharing our faith with others. At one point, he said that our neighbors are likely to die without a relationship with Jesus Christ and face eternal consequences if we don’t share with them… “and you don’t even give a damn!”

And then he asked, “Do you know how I know this? Because you only care that I said ‘damn.'”

The next day, I was invited to a closed-door meeting with the associate minister and the senior minister, in which the senior was telling the associate that he wouldn’t be asked to preach again, until he apologized to the entire congregation for his obscene language, and repented from further actions that exhibited ungodly and wicked behavior, and asked me to back him up in this, as I was a representative of the Leadership Team.

I declined, informing the senior that the associate had delivered the line I had suggested to him with impeccable timing; very effectively in fact. After we looked the word “damn” up in Webster’s and put to bed the idea that it is obscene, that was that.

There was no chance on earth that a Pharisee could ever lead a “sinner” to repentance, for in order to do so, they would first have to form a relationship with that person. Jesus did this effectively, and He is our model to follow. When we appoint ourselves to the high and mighty position of “righteous,” we are no longer able to share Christ.

Oh, and by the way, you won’t need to say “hell” or “damn” to get the job done, even though if memory serves, Jesus might have said those at some point, but then He only spoke King James English!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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10 Responses to Jesus and Sinners

  1. paulfg says:

    Don – I detect a twinkle in your eye today! Wonderful!! 🙂

    I am becoming drawn (as He does) to pubs and “sharing” over here. And bumped into one church stalwart who “Hmpphhhed” mightily when invited to come along. He would never set foot in a pub! Not for fifty years – not ever! I also bumped into another who “Whooped” mightily on discovering we actually drank alcohol if we wanted.

    Always struck me as odd that we poo-poo the Pharisees so easily as the “bad guys” and never spot the log in our own.

    BTW – twinkling becomes you!! 🙂

    • Don Merritt says:

      Thanks for the heads up!

      “Twinkle” might not have been the word I would have chosen, but yes, that’s about right. 🙂

      I’ve always thought it important for all of us to realize that we have more in common with the Pharisees than we do with the great heroes of the faith… a surprise to most. Like any good Pharisee, most of us have an automatic reaction to preserve the staus quo, and making disciples, by its very nature is not preserving the staus quo!

  2. trotter387 says:

    Interesting points Don – remember Jesus also called and saved Pharisees, He judged their words and actions but provided the space for them to do exactly the same thing as the tax collector, repent, turnaround and become Christ like.

    Your illustration does set out just how hypocritical many of us can be. Mark writes in a free style with a dynamic adventurous approach to Jesus ministry. Jesus attracted criticism not because he came into contact with ‘sinners’ but because he took the opportunity to show them they could change.

    So imagine the same scenario reversed Jesus would not have avoided the Pharisee but would have given Good News – the tax collectors may have said “look at him mixing with the bigots”

    So my point: On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    The self righteous are also sinners and Jesus extends the same mercy and grace to them. It is our responsibility to reach out to all with that Gospel, those in the churches and those on the streets or in desperate circumstances. Mark 2: 15 through 17 provides the sound basis for our ministry.

    It is a section of scripture that challenges us to remain impartial.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Very true, for in the final analysis there really isn’t much difference between the tax collector and the Pharisee… and me, or you, or that guy over there…

  3. Tom says:

    Excellent! We are to be in the world–not of the world. We are to be a light in the world–not the worlds light. We are to be witnesses in the world–not taking part in the world.

  4. Julie Harris says:

    Love your story about the sermon! I heard someone once say that we need to love people into the Kingdom!

  5. I’ve always believed and taught we all have gifts AND callings. If we are to follow the example of Christ Jesus and He is the Great Healer, (because He healed us from sin) then each of us should do the same. But, even though the church needs to be encouraged and inspired as well as taught, we can’t heal the healthy and the only way to heal those that need it, is to go to that “crowd.” Yes the Bible tells us to avoid the very appearance of evil, but there is no evil if you are doing what the Lord through the Holy Spirit has commanded us to do. As another commentator stated, we are supposed to be the light, it IS supposed to be shone in the darkness! If you shine it where it is already light, in essence it is lost!
    Great message and God bless for it! Am starting to get in the groove of reading as well as writing! Praise God for His children who are obedient when He calls!! Until next time—again God bless you!

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