And as he 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. When 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?’ When 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: 13-17
As Jesus begins his ministry in the Gospel of Mark, he picks up Levi. Now Levi was a bad guy. He was a tax collector. If you want to see a sinner in the flesh, go back in time and find one of these guys. Tax collectors were private contractors hired by the Roman authorities to collect taxes from an occupied region. Tax collectors were allowed to keep as much money as they could collect above what was owed to Rome, so they were notoriously corrupt. And finally, they were frequently hired from the same occupied population that was being taxed. So Levi was a Jewish man who was enriching himself at the expense of his fellow Jews on behalf of the occupying Romans. This was a bad man.
And so Jesus goes and has dinner with him and other sinners. This scandal opened Jesus to critique from the religious leaders and “good people” in the community, but Jesus saw through this. His line of reply is telling, “Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick…” Jesus knew where he belonged, he belonged in the midst of the sinners.
So, does this mean we should sin boldly that grace may abound (h/t Paul)? Of course not, but here is the rub. We often think of ourselves as good people and when we do, we close ourselves to the Gospel. Jesus comes to us not as perfect Christians, but as sinners in need of redemption. It is in and through our sin that we are opened to the good news of the Gospel, that through Jesus Christ we are reconciled to God.
When you come to worship on Sunday, do not imagine yourself a good, upright person coming to church. Instead, see yourself as Levi, someone whose life is in need of transformation, someone who has harmed himself and others. Then listen to that Gospel message. Jesus came for the sick, that is all of us.
Prayer: Holy God, please forgive me for my sins. Help me to be your more faithful servant, and remind me that it is out of my sin that I call to you. I want Jesus Christ to continue to transform my life and heart. I pray in his holy name, Amen.