Devotional: October 5, 2021
And as [Jesus] 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.’
Mark 2: 15-17 NRSV
The story of Jesus unabashedly sitting with Levi and his friends is inspiring, especially since he was a religious leader. Our Lord and Savior knew very well what kind of reputation the tax-collectors had, and it was not good. Most tax-collectors in Israel were known for over taxing people, and then pocketing the enormous ill-gotten gains.
Seeing such notorious “sinners” can inspire two different responses: revulsion or compassion. The Pharisees were repulsed by the sight of Jesus dining with such an unsavory crowd. They already believed they were superior to others. Jesus’s action gave them further reason to believe they alone were sinless.
The Pharisees were so consumed with their own righteousness that they arrogantly thought that even sitting at the same table would tarnish their reputations. In their minds, they were so superior that they needed to stay away from “sinners” to keep up appearances. Pharisees looked at sin like a disease: better stay away from those who engage in sin at all costs, lest you be dragged into sin yourself! They thrived on being critical of those they believed to be lesser people. They judged anyone that was unlike them as sinners and hopeless. Whether out of fear of contamination or to pronounce judgment by shunning, Pharisees wanted to put as much distance between themselves and the “sinners” as possible.
Jesus was the exact opposite. He saw no one, not even a tax collector named Levi, as being beyond hope. Jesus invited Levi to follow him. It was a chance for this tax collector to become one of Jesus’ own disciples. Surprisingly, Levi dropped everything at the tax tables, and began following Jesus! In a sharp contrast to the Pharisees, Jesus was never concerned about His own reputation. Instead, His heart went out to those who needed Him. In a word, His response was compassion personified. Jesus had a heart for the lost, and no one is ever too lost or too hopeless for Him.
Jesus looked at the “sinners” and said, “Where am I most needed?” He never thought of His own reputation. No! His focus was on spreading the love of the Lord, and sharing God’s overwhelming message of acceptance for all. His response was to sit and to visit “sinners”, and to break bread with them. Jesus did not stand and beat His chest, letting them know how blessed they were to be in His presence. No, Jesus lived out his mission to save all of His children. He was a friend to sinners, starting by sharing a meal with them. May we do the same…
God of saints and sinners,
I confess that sometimes I have been critical and judgmental of others. Help me to remember the example Jesus gave to everyone, that the lost sinner also needs love and compassion. Rather than following the ways of the world, help me to reach out to those who need to hear Your word. Transform me into a friend of sinners, just like Your son was to all with whom he fellowshipped. I pray this prayer in His Holy name. Amen.