Bible Reading: Mark 2:13-17
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."
In Israel at the time of Jesus, just as it is in the UK today, there were a number of different taxes. There were temple taxes, there were taxes that went to the government (render to Caesar what is Caesar’s), taxes that went to the occupying Romans for which it is thought Zacchaeus was a collector, and there were border taxes. Israel had different regions (Galilee, Judea, Samaria, Syro-Phoenicia) and there were taxes, or tolls, for crossing from one region to another. It is thought that Levi (better known as Matthew), sitting in his booth, was one of these tax collectors.
As I read this passage, I am challenged on two levels. The deepest challenge relates to the wide cross section of people who became followers of Jesus and the narrow cross section of people in the church today. Careful reading of the scriptures reveals that Jesus’ followers included religious leaders, members of Herod’s household, political activists, business men and women, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, and many ordinary men and women.
As a church we represent a much narrower cross section of the population. I am challenged as to what we can do as individuals and as a church, to address this disparity and to reflect the heart of Jesus in our mission and ministry?
At a less challenging level I see in Jesus’ encounter with Matthew, a simple way to develop the mission and ministry of the Church. Matthew, having chosen to follow Jesus, throws a party to which he invites a number of his new Christian friends and a number of his original friends and work colleagues, and mission just happened as people talked together in a relaxed, informal gathering.
After lockdown, could we have a series of barbeques, cream teas, coffee mornings or dinner parties across the benefice to which we invite a wide cross section of our friends and neighbours, and let mission begin?
Could you be a Matthew when we celebrate the end of lockdown?
Father of all, we give you thanks and praise,
that when we were still far off you met us in your Son and brought us home.
Send us out now, in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory.
Will you come and follow me?