Now we find Jesus “again beside the sea” (Mark 2:13). As usual, crowds follow Him everywhere. As He passes by the tax booth of Levi He calls Him in the same manner as He did the four fisherman. Those two simple words which serve as the title and unifying theme of this series on discipleship in Mark – “Follow Me” (v. 14). Our narrator, John Mark, gives us almost no details that might help us grasp the magnanimous nature of this moment. “Mark is concerned to illustrate the radical nature of Jesus’ call” (William Lane, NICNT). As radical as it was for the son of Alphaeus, should the call to follow this Rabbi not be equally as radical for us today? I wonder if we really think of it that way?
Speaking of radical, Peter & Andrew and James & John, have got to be standing there with their jaws in the dust at this point. ‘You’re not inviting Him to be one of your disciples are you, Lord?’ They know what this means. They will sit together, eat together, learn together, travel together, with this traitor who likely took a cut from every one of their hard earned catches of fish there in Capernaum, gave the tax to Rome, as well as keeping a generous portion for Himself. Yes, the four fisherman are also learning the radical nature of the call to be a disciple of Jesus. They must learn to love the traitor like a brother.
Speaking of eating together, that’s exactly where Jesus leads them next. Its a party at Levi’s house with lots of seedy characters (sinners, v. 15) and not just Levi, but “many tax collectors.” Jesus is fellowship-ing with exactly the kind of folks that good religious people don’t hang out with! (If you don’t see an application to today let me just gently reach across the table and slap you upside the head, my dear friend). Speaking of which, enter stage left, here come the always prim & proper religious big wigs. ‘Why does your Master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ (v. 16). Thank goodness Jesus jumps in here, because I can’t imagine that any of the disciples would have had any clue how to answer. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 17). Jesus’ response using a traditional proverb (which would have been accepted as valid among these Pharisaic scribes) would have been well-known to them.
Jesus extends an invitation to share table fellowship to outcasts – sinners like you and me! In so doing He invites us into fellowship with God – a Messianic banquet celebrating forgiveness! For Lane:
“The meal was an extension of the grace of God and an anticipation of the consummation when Messiah will sit down with sinners in the Kingdom of God.” (NICNT, p. 107)
If God extends this grace to me, how can I do any less to my fellow human, created in the imago dei? The issue of not treating people as fully human with the appropriate dignity that should go along with that has broad application: gay people whom some may chose to believe don’t actually exist rather than taking the time to get to know them; homeless people who are dirty, smelly and scary; people with disfigurement or other disorders, sicknesses, illnesses, diseases that make us uncomfortable; a disabled vet missing a limb or 3 that I really don’t want to look in the eye; conjoined twins who clearly make me uncomfortable; a person with a seizure disorder – that can really cause people to freak out! And yet sometimes it’s good for me to be stretched outside my comfort zone. Who knows maybe I’ll even grow to become a little more like Jesus because of it.
Following Jesus means becoming more like Him. Expanding the group of people with whom I share a fellowship meal, relationship, giving my time & attention (rather than my condemnation) – actually taking the time to listen to them, to genuinely understand their thoughts and feelings, to enter into their world, to empathize with their circumstances; might be a good way to start following Him today!
Until next time, my friends – follow Jesus…