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 the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:13-17 NIV
Jesus’ message in the gospels is, “the Kingdom of God is near.” He teaches this message to everyone, to the crowds who come to hear him, to the Jews in the synagogues, to the people in Jerusalem and to the religious leaders. Levi, also known as Matthew, hears his message, follows him and invites Jesus to eat with him. Many people considered “sinners” attended this meal in Levi’s home. Culturally, having a meal with someone was a sign of acceptance and friendship. The Pharisees question Jesus’ disciples – wanting to know why Jesus was eating and being friendly with tax collectors and sinners, something they would never do. Jesus tells them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Mk 2:17).
In Luke 19:10 Jesus spends time with another tax collector – Zacchaeus, and says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” People who heard his message and were able to recognize their need for forgiveness and healing readily accepted his teaching, and followed Jesus. Most of the Pharisees were interested in their own status, their own cleanliness, and condemning anyone who did not follow the letter of the law as they interpreted it.
A similar situation is described in Chapter 34 of Ezekiel. God calls on Ezekiel to prophesy against the corrupt leaders of Israel because they are only interested in taking care of themselves. But later in Chapter 34 God describes caring for his sheep himself, “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak,” (Ez 34:16a). At the end of the chapter God says, “Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the sovereign Lord,” (Ez 34:30).
The Kingdom of God requires honesty in ourselves, if we acknowledge our need for healing and ask for forgiveness, then we can experience being with God and can know his presence. It also requires us to be looking out for others who need healing, who need forgiveness from Jesus. We all need to acknowledge our sin, repent and accept his healing and love. A question we need to ask ourselves is – are we seeking out the lost, the injured, the “sinners” as Jesus did?
By Grace Hunter