Jesus went back again to the shore of Lake Galilee. A crowd came to him, and he started teaching them. 14 As he walked along, 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.
15 Later on Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s house. A large number of tax collectors and other outcasts was following Jesus, and many of them joined him and his disciples at the table. 16 Some teachers of the Law, who were Pharisees, saw that Jesus was eating with these outcasts and tax collectors, so they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such people?”
17 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.”
18 On one occasion the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came to Jesus and asked him, “Why is it that the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but yours do not?”
19 Jesus answered, “Do you expect the guests at a wedding party to go without food? Of course not! As long as the bridegroom is with them, they will not do that. 20 But the day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
21 “No one uses a piece of new cloth to patch up an old coat, because the new patch will shrink and tear off some of the old cloth, making an even bigger hole. 22 Nor does anyone pour new wine into used wineskins, because the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.” – Mark 2:13-22
Some of my friends and colleagues frighten me. Mark was one who did. He led a new and innovative ministry connecting with people in the urban areas of Dallas/Fort Worth. He took the Gospel and the church into places we had not previously been. He was willing to talk with all kinds of people. All kinds. Religiously non religious. Morally amoral. Artists who were really out there, and others who were not the churchly sort.
Another Mark led me on a mission walk once. I had no idea what we were to do, or how to engage people in conversation. Neither did he. But we went nonetheless. It was scary to be doing things unknown to me that were also not normal things to do.
I’m wondering if that’s how the religious leaders thought about Jesus. He was doing things that really challenged their comfort zones. He was interacting with people who needed God but were far from religious. How could their system handle these people? How was their system going to handle Jesus himself.
Sadly they would not handle either well. They would continue to ostracize and ignore the non-religious tax collectors and other outcasts. They would not ignore Jesus, though. They would conspire to kill him. Which do you say is worse?
Before we too quickly conclude that killing Jesus was worse, let’s be careful to consider the impact of inaction and avoidance has on people who need God but who are far from the church or religion. That, essentially, is a death sentence. If we refuse to intersect with people far from God, who will bring them the grace and truth of Jesus?
Our discomfort must be overcome somehow. And the reach to do so might not be as far as we imagine. They may be the people down the street from us – not just people in the seedy parts of town. They may be members of your own family, not just people you don’t even now know.
There may come a time for you to intersect with people in the seedy parts of town, or with people you don’t now know. When that time comes, it will likely be a bit uncomfortable. Jesus’ willingness to join the party with these outcasts should open our hearts to a new way of thinking and living. When we realize that we ourselves are no less in need of the Great Physician of our souls than they are, we will find their company to be much less frightening than we thought. Now that’s a scary thought!