Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jesus, the Savior Calls Levi, the Sinner (A Reflection on Mark 2:13-17)

As [Jesus] walked along [the shore of Lake Galilee],
he saw a tax collector, Levi son of Alphaeus, sitting in his office.
Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Levi got up and followed him” (Mark 2:14, GNB).

Since I begin my reflections on the Gospel of Mark, I now discover personally that Jesus is a very controversial figure. He always surprises us with His words and actions. He challenged His disciples and offended the Pharisees. He puzzled His companions and breaks the religious traditions. He shocked those who follow Him and annoyed those who do not. And now, He recruits a tax collector among His followers… What a superb plan!

His action doesn’t surprise us because we don’t see any visible tax collectors in every city in Malaysia until I tell you that they are similar with illegal money lenders who charge high rates of interest as they wishes (or check tax charge in your bill next time). They collect tax for the enemy, the Roman Empire, and extra for their own pocket money. Thus, they are considered traitors and outcasts. They were the ancient-gangsters (with Roman guards), dishonest and greatly disliked by their fellow Jews. What did Jesus think when He said to Levi “Follow me”!? I don’t know. I still amaze and wonder.

Levi got up and followed Him” was the immediate response. Levi probably has heard one of Jesus’ preaching. Nevertheless, it was instant and risky decision. If the fishermen like Peter and John one day decided not to follow Jesus anymore, they can always return to their occupations – but not Levi. He can’t return to his previous job that easily. Stupid? Perhaps. But I bet Levi doesn’t regret his decision that day. I know it because “later on Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s house.” He throws a party with his fellow “tax collectors and other outcasts” (Mark 2:15). Jesus and His disciples (good guys) mixed with Levi and the outcasts (bad guys) under one roof. Partying, drinking and eating together.

That was why the Pharisees asked, “Why does [Jesus] eat with such people?” (Mark 2:16) They were playing religious game which prohibited ‘righteous’ people (like them of course) from dirtying their hands with known sinners. They are like this friend of mine who asked me why I go karaoke, watching movies, BBQ, play bowling and futsal, and hang out with drinkers and smokers outside church circles. “Jesus heard them and answered, ‘People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” (Mark 2:17). Jesus is saying that He come for those who realize that they are sinners in need of a Savior, not to those who called themselves ‘righteous.

Remember, Jesus calls us to be “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Salt cannot accomplish its purpose while sitting in the salt shaker. We need to sprinkle ourselves among the unbelievers in the world in order to affect them. If we only have Christian friends, attend only Christian activities and going only to Christian places, we’re guilty of not being “the salt of the earth” in the world. We must communicate God’s love firsthand, as Jesus did to Levi, to those who need the Savior, Jesus Christ.

[Fyi: Levi, the tax collector is Matthew (another name), the apostles.
He is the one who wrote the Gospel of Matthew]
I wonder; what if he did not answered Jesus’ call that day? Hmmm…
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