Week 7: READ: Mark 2:13-22
Imagine the chaotic scene of the luncheon at Levi’s house. There were many tax collector friends of Levi and other sinner friends all sitting together with Jesus and his disciples in what is a typically small Galilean home. The religious leaders of the community, the scribes of the Pharisees who were a law abiding group, evidently invited themselves into the meal so they could needle Jesus’ disciples. This is the second Levi story (2:15-17) appended to the earlier account (2:13-14).
Flashing back to the vv. 13-14, Jesus returns to the shore of the Sea of Galilee (1:16-20). Growing crowds of people from the village of Capernaum (see 1:33; 2:2) and the surrounding countryside (see 1:45) crowded around Jesus to listen to him as he taught. Typical of Mark, what Jesus taught was not as important as the response of people because there is no inclusion of his teaching. When Jesus concluded his teaching by the sea he ventures into the village where a tax booth would be located.
Levi is a Hebrew name, like his father Alphaeus. A Jewish tax collector worked for the Roman Empire which is as good as selling your soul to Satan. Levi was in a special category of sinner: traitor to his own people. This made Levi and all his work companions outsiders in the faith and in the community. Nothing drives people together like being driven out, disrespected and denounced by community and religious leaders. Shared rejection galvanizes groups. When Jesus not only befriended Levi but called him to join him and his followers, this was unthinkable and radical. This action of Jesus could be seen as unpatriotic and religiously ridiculous. Working for the occupying enemy was just not acceptable. Associating with Levi put Jesus under religious scrutiny.
The second Levi story has no transition to it from the call story of Levi. There is no invitation by Levi to come to his house for a meal. Instead, we jump into the brief story of Jesus and his disciples eating with Levi’s coworkers and sinner friends. Eating with Levi and friends may have been even worse than eating with Gentiles because they were turn coats. People matter more to Jesus than policy and procedure. Jesus looks though circumstances and sees possibilities. By his actions, Jesus risks ridicule and reclaims people for God who were pushed out by rules and regulations.
Mark in a very small number of words describes well what often happens in communities where a dramatic transformation has occurred. When the rabbi Jesus called Levi to follow him, this tax collector and social outcast discovered he had value in the eyes of God. This was a complete reversal of his situation in the community. Levi had to share Jesus and his story with his band of coworkers and friends. What a great time to host a luncheon celebration of Levi’s new position as a follower of Jesus. He could not wait to introduce Jesus to his friends and co-workers.
The establishment religious leaders who first appeared in the Gospel of Mark in the preceding narrative now reappear. The news of Jesus action in calling Levi and going to his house could not escape the notice of the scribes. Because eating and drinking with someone is a social form of acceptance for which they stood in judgment of Jesus, we can assume that the scribes were lurking in the shadows of the room with their back to the wall like seventh grade boys at the school dance! These scoundrels likely snitched a free drink when no one was paying attention.
The next story about fasting continues the theme of conflict with the religious establishment. The topic is once again food or the practice of not eating to devote time to prayer and service. Jesus does not throw fasting, like the followers of John the Baptist or the Pharisees practice, under the bus. There will be time for his followers to practice fasting but not while he is with them on earth.
This narrative ends with a couple of metaphors about old and new vv. 21-22. Jesus has come to introduce a new life, a new way of living and being. It is a liberating word about the overcoming love of God. Once loved, we are sent to share the life-changing love of Jesus with others. The Jesus life requires wholesale change through repentance and faith. You cannot just put on a Jesus patch and hold on to the old way of living. The Holy Spirit is the new wine which demands a new heart to house the Spirit. Otherwise the wineskin will burst. Let go and let God!
If I may, I will lift Jesus phrase of fishing for people (1:17) and call it trolling the network of people disconnected or never connected to the church. It takes just one person to impact the lives of many others. Lynn was that one person. The funny thing is that I never knew Lynn. The first time I saw him was at his funeral at the church. Lynn had once been a member of the church I serve as pastor. Despite the fact that Lynn and his family had not worshipped at Grace nor given an offering of record in some time, Lynn and his family still regarded Grace as their church. When Lynn died, his wife called the church to set up a date and time for his funeral.
Let me be honest, church constitutions are required and they have some good purposes like a process for the congregation if there is clergy misconduct, the democratic process of the congregation’s annual meeting for the election of leaders, description of their roles, passing the annual budget, and protecting the clergy from congregational abuse, etc. What is least helpful is the minimal criteria on what is a member of the church: they worshipped once and gave a financial gift of record in the last couple of years. That is just what Jesus invited his first followers to do!
Enough! The celebration of anyone’s life is important. Grace does funeral well. We will officiate at and host any funeral that comes our way. You do not have to be member to have your life celebrated at Grace, have a meal served on our best china and experience the love of our wonderful and caring volunteers. We may never see the family again after the funeral. At Grace, we believe the end of life deserves to be acknowledged and the family deserves to be loved and comforted. I remember the tears Mary, our financial secretary shed at the celebration of life for Richard at Grace. Richard was found dead on the floor of a low budget motel on the edge of our city as a long-time alcoholic. There was no next of kin. A worker at the motel brought us Richard’s well-worn Bible from which we read, prayed and gave thanks for Richard’s life.
When Lynn’s family came in and they told me about his life, I met a man who was loved by his family and many others in the community. Lynn cared about others, helped who he could and loved life. Though he had not been at Grace for years, this did not mean he was not a person of faith or Christian. Here was his loving family who were hurting and had great stories they were eager to share. I shared some Scripture, we prayed, and Lynn’s family cried. There was love in the room.
Lynn’s death brought his family to the church. As clear as if it were yesterday, I recall his son who shares his name Lynn, said to me right after his dad’s funeral, I think it is time as a fifty year old man that I get baptized! Out of the blue, before we even sat down to the meal after the funeral (like Levi), here is an opening to begin exploring faith. It was a total shock to me. Mind you, at the time, son Lynn who works in a metal shop and plays base on weekends in a hard rock band, was dressed all in black and had long blonde hair half-way down his back. I said, “Getting baptized means you want to be a follower of Jesus so I would like to meet with you and explore what that means together. Are you up for that?” Lynn replied, “Definitely!”
We did meet. We explored what Christian means in Scripture, prayed together and discussed Lynn’s questions. Best part of it all was we got to know each other! Lynn, his mom, twin sister, another sister, aunt, and other family members started worshiping regularly and most of them still worship with us. Lynn and a couple other adults were baptized immersion style at the Easter vigil service. Members of his band were present as well as his family and about 50-60 other people. Lynn plays base in our worship team. Like Levi, Lynn tell those he knows about Grace and the worship of God. Who knows when and how God will show up and touch the heart and life of someone who may not even know they are hungry for God!
- Where do you see yourself in the meal at Levi’s house? Why?
- How does God call sinner to faith today?
- In what ways is your church like an old cloak? What gets in the way of the new wine of the Spirit being unleashed to do new things? What are we afraid of?
- Where will you find Levi’s table this week so that you can plant the seed of Jesus love in the heart of others?