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Sinners Follow Jesus

Mark 2:13-17
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 those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.' (NIVUK)

Employers select the best candidates for a job.  So, it seems logical that God would choose the best people to serve Him.   But in this narrative, Jesus chose dishonest Levi (Matthew), and then hosted his leaving party surrounded by those whose morals and integrity were in tatters (Luke 15:1-2).  The religious leaders asked the obvious question, "Why?"  Why should one who claims to be the representative of heavenly perfection, soil himself with corrupted people?  This must prove that He is not from God, and certainly not God (Luke 7:39).

Jesus' choice of Levi was not a random action.  In the same way that He knew all about Nathaniel before they met (John 1:45-51), Jesus knew Levi.  He was a local Jewish tax collector who worked for the Roman authorities which heavily taxed the territories they had conquered.  Income tax, property tax, import and export taxes, sales tax, crop tax and fish tax accumulated large sums of money to pay for the infrastructure of the provinces and also fund Rome's expansive empire ambitions.    Many Jews were recruited to collaborate with the pagan invaders.  It was lucrative work because they demanded extra money which they kept for themselves (Luke 19:8); and so they were hated by ordinary traders and by the religious leaders.  They were immoral people, as despised as prostitutes (called 'sinners' in these verses).   

Why should Jesus allow sinful people to follow Him?  Why did He pollute Himself by eating in their expensive homes?  The religious leaders did not ask Jesus, but His disciples; however Jesus answered for them.  His mission was not to call the self-righteous who thought that they were good enough for God.  He had come to call sinners so that He could make them righteous.  In the same way that sick people need a doctor, sinners need the Saviour.  The grace of the gospel is that Jesus personally chose to take our dirt in order to make us clean (1 Peter 2:24).

Alas, too many Christians are still impregnated by hypocritical religious ideas.  We believe that the nice person in the company might be converted, yet have low spiritual expectations for the office gossip, the violent customer or the embezzling executive.  The fact is that we are all sinners (Romans 3:10, 23) whatever our social masks, education and respect from the community.  We all need Jesus.  He loves everybody equally; and so should we.  He wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-6).  That should shape our praying and our witness.  Why not treat each meeting, phone call or e-mail today as if the Lord Jesus is calling your client, employee or boss?  Next month or next year that person could be your brother or sister in Christ.  How you treat each sinner reflects how great a Saviour you think Jesus is.

Gracious Father. Thank You for Your love in calling me in Your mercy and saving me. Forgive me for not seeing people as You do, wrongly assuming who can and cannot not be saved. Give me the eyes and ears of faith to see that You are calling the most unlikely into Your service and help me to cooperate with what You are doing. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams