Mark 2:13-17 NIV
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 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.
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.”
In this scripture Jesus, probably while in Capernaum, calls a tax collector named Levi (identified as Matthew in a parallel passage at Matt 9:9), to be one of his disciples. Tax collectors like Levi, a Jew, were despised by other Jews, who viewed them as traitors working for the oppressive Romans and enriching themselves at the expense of their fellow Jews. Levi was also in violation of the prevailing Jewish purity code, which forbid Jews to serve in the Roman government.
Later, while Jesus and his disciples dined with Levi and his friends at Levi’s house, the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ disciples about why Jesus was socializing with “tax collectors and sinners.” (Mark 2:16) One can imagine that the disciples were probably asking themselves the same question. In first century Israel, social boundaries were important and meals were a way to maintain those boundaries – pious Jews knew who they couldn’t eat with. Jesus’ dining with tax collectors and other sinners demonstrated a startling disregard for these social boundaries and the purity code. Today, we construct our own boundaries which separate us from people whom we perceive are worse sinners than ourselves.
Jesus’ response tells the Pharisees, and us, that (1) God’s love is so great that there is no one beyond the scope of His mercy, and (2) that we, like Jesus, should reach beyond societal and self-imposed boundaries to have compassion for others.
God, help me to cultivate a heart of mercy with genuine compassion for all, so that I may help share Your great love with those who need it most. Amen.
Links to paintings of the calling of Levi/Matthew:
- by Caravagio, 1599; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Calling_of_St_Matthew_(Caravaggio)
- by Carpaccio, 1502; https://www.wga.hu/html_m/c/carpacci/3schiavo/2/matthew.html
- by Terbrugghen, 1621; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brugghen,_Hendrick_ter_-_The_Calling_of_St._Matthew_-_1621.jpg