Mark 2:13-17 February 28th, 2031
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Church Picnic & Tour of the grounds.
“Listen and hear the words as recorded in the gospel according to Mark, chapter two, verses thirteen thru seventeen.”
13Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 15And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples – for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
“We have heard from the gospel with our ears, let us now open our hearts to the lesson’s meaning in our time and place within history.”
‘The scribes, the assistants of the Pharisees ask, “Why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners?”’ /Mark 2:16b/ The real question ought to be: ‘Why have the Pharisees not invited Jesus to come eat with them on that day!?’ Clearly, Jesus was a devoted and scholarly man and a regular at the temple. Jesus was well spoken, and he was often invited to read scripture and speak at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. As a young lad of twelve years of age, Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem and mesmerized the teachers with his knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. Why indeed was he eating with the tax collectors and sinners? Perhaps the Pharisees had forgotten what their purpose was as religious leaders and did not invite such as these to their table or their homes. One must also wonder if they, the Pharisees ever reached out in compassion and mercy to assist the homeless, the sick and those who were being taken advantage of by those in power. Why had they hardened their hearts to this man of God, when even tax collectors and sinners could see his goodness. Jesus was able to see into someone’s heart, whereas the Pharisees of that time-period it would seem, had stopped looking. Jesus was a man send by God, the very Son of God and of humankind; yet; those who were charged to lead the faithful, were unable to appreciate Jesus for who he truly was. Who then are the true sinners in this reading?
Who ought to follow Jesus? Why not the sinners and the tax collectors, who were thought to be sinners as well because they cheated the people by over collecting their taxes, so they could fill their own pockets. One of the primary purposes for the presence of Jesus was to offer the people forgiveness through the sacrifice of his own life. If the characters in the story had acted different it would be a different story. What we need to focus on was Jesus’ willingness to be there for the sinners, the lost, and help them, lead them back to the light of God; where they would find forgiveness and the opportunity to choose a new way! What the question brings up for us might be the lack of understanding by those who criticized, disapproved, and condemned the efforts of Jesus to reach out to those who had become lost. Lost to the faithful flock of people who ought to have been gathered by those that were responsible for the spiritual needs of the people. Jesus was simple doing the work of God, in plain sight, so that it would be remembered for the likes of us; we who need to renew and refresh what being a follower of Christ truly means!
As we continue to grapple with Jesus spending so much of his ministry with those who had been lost to the love and salvation of God, let us reconsider what it truly means to call ourselves Christians. If that is not our goal, well we have a different problem… now don’t we?! Christianity is not restricted to just those who live seemingly perfect lives; no, absolutely, not! In fact, back when the Apostle Paul was striving to work with the Apostles back in Jerusalem, while he was making great inroads evangelizing the gentiles he encountered in Rome, Corinth, and Galatia, he was struggling with the Apostle Peter and the others, about what constitutes the qualifications for Christianity. Paul was advocating that folks were saved by God’s grace through their faith and belief in Christ. Whereas the Apostles in Jerusalem argued that the Laws of Judaism were required as well! Thankfully, with the help of God’s intervention, they came to understand that circumcision and many other strict laws of which came from the needs of the Hebrew nation when they migrated out of Egypt and into the wasteland, they were forced to create rules due to the harshness of life in the barren wilderness. Consequently, we still have the Ten Commandments but, due to the forgiveness which Christ brought to humankind, we were granted the rewards of adopted children and given the rights to inherit the promises of God.
What then are the qualifications which are required to be followers of Christ? And can sinners and corrupted tax collectors be accepted into the fold? Yes, all that is needed is faith, deep, and sincere faith which causes one to rearrange the order of one’s life! The pathway to God’s heart has not changed as we have gotten into the Twenty-First Century! This is despite the breaking off from the center of major branches – with a great many separate ‘minor’ branches across the globe. Granted, there are many differences in dogma and tradition within the realm of Christendom. Nevertheless, the spread of Christianity has touched the furthest corners of Mother Earth, encompassing a large range of cultures and ethnicities throughout. This has become possible because of the great diversity of the civilizations within our modern era! Christianity is not void of its sins, yet, true Christians have kept Christ as the center, the ultimate authority. It is utterly amazing how Christianity has been enriched due to the cultures of so many societies as they have strived to engage the story of Jesus. This has evolved into many rich traditions which have strengthened the heart of Christianity.
As we acknowledge the diversity, the assortment and mixture of how followers of Christ have sought to worship and follow the examples of Jesus, it would be dishonest to not admit that this brings with it many challenges throughout the ages and in our own time. This begs the question as to who has the right to enforce any qualification to the definition of Christianity? Just as the critics of Jesus and those he would invite to follow him drew negative reviews. So also do modern Christians who dare to mix a diverse range of ethnic groups into the same community of faith. Can you just imagine the outrage this creates in some circles! Throughout the last few Centuries there have been divisive arguments in our cultures and the Universal Church (of Jesus Christ) has been forced to work within the humanism of it all! Many times, very successfully, yet sadly, with many stumbling blocks which still strain the vine that links us together. Let us name just a few to raise up the humanness of our Universal Church of Christ. Equality for all: men and women, black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor. Let us not forget the all too obvious: the separation of church and state! Throughout the ages this line in the sand has been dragged both ways and currently there is great disparity in how this is handled. The Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) has strict rules about tax exempt charities and religious groups and their non-involvement in politics within our country here in the United States. These rules seem to be stretched in the direction of whatever political party is in control of public opinion!
Why was this scripture passage so important when Jesus first spoke the words written in this account so long go? The policies of the religious leaders of that time were tainted due to the oppression of the Roman empire, which ruled over the Israelites within Palestine, centered around Jerusalem. The leaders of the established religion of the Jewish people were afraid that the crowds Jesus drew together were disruptive to their relationship with the Romans, and thus, the privileges and perks that they were granted when things remained quiet were in jeopardy. Therefore, they sent their Scribes to look for excuses to critique Jesus and build their case to rid themselves of his disruption. Perhaps they were jealous of his popularity with the people as well; and/or they were frightened of the consequences of an uprising at that point in time! Why do we need to take this lesson seriously in today’s realities – in which we live? Because of the diverse differences of opinion as to what it means to fully live into the teachings of Jesus – within our society. The questions, the conflicts are no longer about being circumcised or following the ‘letter of the law’ as laid out in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament. Many have been caught ‘cherry picking’, which is that ancient art of ‘liftin-up’ those rules, out of their intended context, to criticize others while they themselves live as hypocrites – unwilling to live into all the rules within the ancient writings of the ‘Rule Book’; written for the ancient tribes of Israel, the Hebrew nation that lived as Nomads in the wilderness for many generations!
What can we learn from this lesson? A lot! We can strive not to be like the hard of heart like those who sought to discredit Jesus. Rather we need to consider all the ways we can be more like Jesus. Let us lift-up an example. When can we, when ought we be concerned about those who seek the companionship of the Son of God? This ought to be central in our ministries. If we see another congregation of Christians working to support the needs of the hungry – and doing a good job of distributing food to those in need – we can support their efforts. And we do! Thank God, because the line of folks that are needing an assist in the simple, but crucial task of feeding themselves and their families, has continued to grow due to all that has surrounded this world-wide pandemic! It is a good place to start! When we see others pushed aside for the color of their skin or the accent of their voice based on an ethnic background, it is our ‘call’ from God to support them in every way we are able. Therefore, we are an open congregation welcoming all the diverse people which have found their way into the communities – which we seek to serve as a Christian outreach!
Let us ask ourselves: Where can we see signs of the results… the outcomes of the extravagant compassionate of Christ? As we stay open to the possibilities that others may be doing a better job serving the needs of our community then we ourselves, let us not stop seeking new ways to serve the people of God who are truly wanting the help we may be able to offer. When we ask ourselves: how can we respect the examples of Jesus as recorded? When we ask this of ourselves and honestly seek to respond when the opportunity offers itself, then we are serving the needs of others. Jesus does not expect perfection from us. Yet, an honest effort to be all we can be is expected! Frequently, we may find ourselves asking questions of ourselves, just as the scribes asked questions of Jesus, as stated in our scripture lesson this morning. Questions like: What risks do we take by associating with sinners when we are seeking to do the will of God? The true risk is that we may not be willing to do what is called for – because we too are frightened and afraid. Thankfully, the price for our sins of omission have been paid. Christ only asks that we remain willing and with a bit of prayer and a push from the Spirit – all things are possible!