In our sermon series through the book of Mark, called Mark My Words we have gotten to see, hear, and experience the work of Jesus. In Mark 2:13-28, we are going to come across 3 stories which show Jesus confronting the rules as he found them, pushing to provide a clear picture rather than produce blind allegiance and in the process he reveals what following him will look like: Who would it include? Would it be something new or repacking the old, would it be about rules or worship?
As our first story unfolds—we find Jesus begins with…
MOVE #1: UNINVITED GUESTS (Mark 2:13-17) 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?”
As the uninvited guests start pestering Jesus you can see the rule come to the forefront: Don’t associate with sinners! In their position, Levi-a Jew working for the Romans wasn’t just a regular sinner, but he was the sickness plaguing the Jewish culture, feeding wealth to the Romans behemoth. Jesus in sitting down at the table—had welcomed these people to a new level of closeness. The table was the one place in the 1st century that represented intimacy, family, and hospitality.
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.”
The people they wanted to avoid, are those Jesus had come to advance—to make well. Those same people who today might look like the alcoholic or drug addict, homeless or mentally ill, disabled or dislocated.
We sometimes hear about the outbreak of the 3rd century plague, but let’s hear from those who lived it. “In 251 to 266, at the height of a second outbreak of disease, known as the plague of Cyprian (the bishop of Carthage), Cyprian’s biographer, Pontius the deacon, wrote of the plague at Carthage:
“Afterwards there broke out a dreadful plague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people (5,000 people a day were said to be dying at Rome), every one from his own house. (2 Romans emperors died of the outbreak) All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could exclude death itself also. [i.e. they were abandoning their friends and loved ones] There lay about meanwhile, over the whole city, no longer bodies, but the carcasses of many, and, by the contemplation of a lot which in their turn would be theirs, demanded the pity of passers-by for themselves. No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience.”
Contrast the dreadful but understandable reaction with that of the Christians who remained in the community, Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead. [ibid. p. 82, par. 2]
There are times where we can wonder if our lives matter, feeling more like a carcass than bodies, abandoned more than adored–after a divorce, lost job, death of a spouse—where you doubted, wondered, where tears fell down as your life fell apart, splintered into a million pieces, and yet there is where we hear Christ’s words—not shunning, fleeing or shuddering but speaking of an incarnation/identity in us: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Jesus from the beginning of his ministry—not only bore the cross, but bears the broken identity to bring healing!