I gotta say, it’s interesting how Scripture, and the movement of where the Holy Spirit takes us, builds on itself.
In previous weeks we have brought up two points: First, Jesus is our example, and second, Jesus is God. From there we have seen several examples of both. Last week when we met together, and I asked you to share what you struggled with that came out of last week’s passage. In the passage we saw three things: People taking up space, Buildings being destroyed, and the authority of Jesus being challenged.
We talked about how we are people taking up space, when we sit in church but we're not being used by God. Rather, we are taking up the time and resource that are needed to reach those who need Jesus. That’s not to say that we should be these holier than thou people, but rather people who recognize our own need and desire to grow, even it’s by small steps.
We then talked about how the physical things that we hold onto, like buildings, are merely tools to be used to reach out to people. And if those tools become more important than people, then they need to be torn apart.
Finally, we talked about how Jesus is the one that forgives sins and heals people. We are to be the ones that point others to him, and not to ourselves, a pastor, or a church. We can help guide them, a pastor can help teach them, and a church can give them support, but in the end, it is Jesus whom they need.
After we talked about these things, I challenged you to respond to which one you struggled with most out of the three. I asked this, not strictly for your benefit, though it is good to get it out, but rather for the benefit of everyone.
The first step in growing as the people of God, is to recognize that we still have failings. We still struggle, and when we confront those failings, we begin to accept God’s transformative work in our lives.
And this is why I say, that it’s amazing how the Holy Spirit leads us to build on these ideas from week to week, because it’s recognizing our own failings that leads us into today’s passage. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the Gospel of Mark chapter 2, verse 13. And as we get into Mark 2:13, I want to give you a little background on some of the people that we’re going to be talking about today.
First, there are the Pharisees, these guys believed that God’s grace was only given to those who kept God’s law perfectly. Which is a kind of oxymoron if you think about it. But these guys actually started out with good intentions. They started about a hundred years before this time period, and it was to help the Jewish people regain their faith after a great defeat. They brought people back to worshiping and trusting God. But at this point, where we’re about to read, they had become unrelenting in making people act perfectly. This is called legalism. Making it more important that people act a certain way, instead of following God in faith.
The second person we’ll see, are tax collectors. These guys were of course despised. They are the IRS of their day. And just like we tend to despise the IRS for taking our money, the people of Jesus’ day despised their tax collectors. And if you were a Jewish tax collector it was even worse for you. You would be kicked out of the synagogues, you couldn’t serve as a judge, nor could you even give a witness statement. This ostracism didn’t stop with the tax collector themselves, but extend to their entire family. In other words, no one liked them and the society made sure they knew it.
Finally, “sinners.” Air quotes included. These weren’t your run of the mill, told a white lie, thought a bad thought, kind of people. They were first people who refused to follow God’s law in the way the Pharisees interpreted it. They were also those who had committed sins that everyone knew about. People who committed robbery, adultery, and other things that were big enough that the the whole community knew what they had done.
Now that we have those three people out of the way, let’s jump into Mark chapter 2, verse 13.
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 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. 16 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?”
17 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.”
So let’s go through this and really get into what’s going on. It says, that once again Jesus was beside the lake. It says, once again because the last time we saw Jesus beside the lake, four of his followers were specifically called to respond to Jesus’ message. And here, Jesus is again calling someone to become one of his disciples. Except this time, it’s a little different. Before they were fisherman, not the greatest of jobs, but not looked down on either. Fisherman provided a needed service of collecting and selling fish to the people. It was an acceptable profession. But this time, Jesus speaks to a tax collector, where we’ve already established is a profession that is looked down upon and ostracized in this society.
Now, let’s get a little insight into who Levi was. The name Levi basically means the accompanied. Not the most forceful or grandiose name in the Bible. But if you have flipped through the pages of the Bible you would actually have stumbled upon one of Levi’s writings. See this Levi that Jesus calls here, is known by the name Matthew, and is the writer of the Gospel that comes, positionally, before the gospel of Mark. Levi probably had his name changed to Matthew by Jesus somewhere along the line. The meaning of the name Matthew is “gift from Yahweh.” Now you might be asking, why are we spending so much time on names and their meanings? It’s because we need to understand the significance that is happening here, because later on in the passage we see it play out.
See, as Jesus eats with Levi, his tax collector friends, and with other “sinners,” the Pharisees start asking questions. They ask why is Jesus eating with these sinners. See before, when Jesus was sitting and healing people, the company Jesus kept wasn’t a problem. But now that he is eating with it, a problem has arose from the Pharisee’s point of view. See to eat with someone was to announce friendship with them. So in the Pharisee’s mind, if Jesus is eating with these “sinners” then he is a friend of theirs. And if he is their friend, then he is not following the Pharisee’s interpretation of God’s law. We see this in today’s society too. If a girl has a “butch” hair cut, they’re labeled a lesbian. If a pastor is at a bar, they’re a drinker. Looking a certain way, or being at a certain place, gives us the idea that someone is a part of that place or that group. In general, humans tend to do this. We make connections, even if those connections are false.
So the Pharisees make this connection with Jesus and these sinners: If Jesus is with them, he must be a sinner too. But Jesus isn’t one to back down from correcting a pre-supposition.
And this is where it all comes to a head. Jesus doesn’t allow the disciples to answer the question, but does it himself. And it’s great, because Jesus is not above putting people in their place. Jesus says to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
People that don’t see their need for a doctor, stay away from the doctor, right? We all have probably done it at some point. Guys probably more that gals. Unless there is something that we can feel is wrong, we try to avoid giving doctors our money and taking the chance they’ll find something worse. But when we feel like there is something wrong, we’re more willing to go and have it checked out.
Jesus understands this, and connects the sinners to people in need of a doctor. But he also connects healthy people to those who are righteous, or in other words, those who live in a right way. But here’s the thing, this isn’t true righteousness. What the Pharisees are doing is not truly right living. Instead it’s a facade, an illusion they have made around themselves. They see themselves as not needing a doctor, because they don’t see their need for it. But these “sinners,” these people who are cast out of society do see their need for Doctor Jesus. They see their need, because they live with it daily. They are reminded about it daily. Levi’s job keeps him out of acceptance and sidelined by people, society sees Levi as an unwanted part of the community, and they keep Levi’s need for God square in his face.
That is why Levi followed Jesus when told to, because Levi understood his need. Levi understood his shortcomings, his failings, and his sin. And that’s why Jesus sits in the middle of the “sinners” eating, because they have recognized their need for him. And this is why the name of Levi is so important. His name does not have gravitas, his name doesn’t have deep meaning, his name is a throw away. But Jesus gives him a new name, a name with greater meaning. Levi went from someone who's is just accompanying this world, to Matthew, a gift from God.
Levi went from a person who understood his need for God, to a person who had his need for God met.
And this is why it is important that we recognize our shortcomings, and our struggles. Why we need to have these things, that we talked about last week, brought up in our own lives. Because it would be so easy to become a Pharisee. It would be so easy to think, once we find Jesus that we’re done. It is so easy to have God work in our lives, bringing us so far, and to turn around and look down on other people. Even though we were once a Levi, it is so easy to become a Pharisee, and look down on the other Levis that are behind us.
So today, here is my challenge. Take a moment and recognize that you are a Levi, a person in need of God’s grace. In need of his love and mercy, because of your sin, because of your shortcomings, because of your struggles. And by recognizing this truth, recognize your need for a doctor. That your sin can be and is forgiven, and that your struggles would turn into victories. And recognize, that because of what Jesus has done on the cross, you have a new name, you are not a throw away of society, but you are a gift of God.
Let us not become Pharisees, holding others to unbearable standards, but rather be the Levi that we are. The people God has saves us to be, to point others to him, so that other Levis might become Matthews. Will you recognize your Levi name? Will you meet Jesus the Doctor and become a Matthew?
Father in heaven, you have done everything that is needed to bring us back into a right relationship with us. We are Levis, throwaways of this world, but you have not thrown us away. You have called us to be Matthews, people who have been given the gift of grace, so that we might show other sinners, that you can save them too. Let us be your people, pointing others to you, that they may know you and be healed. Amen.