You just can’t sleep. They are having a party again down the road in that house with the big metal fence. You not only hear the bass you can feel it pounding though the wall. You’d rung the noise control officers but even they seemed rather reluctant to deal with this lot, this gang. You could toss and turn all night or you could do something about it. Well you’ve had enough; you were going to do something about it. So you get up, get dressed and head down the road.
It had been such a great day it seems a shame that it’s ruined now You’d been down at the city centre with a big crowd. They had come to listen to him, he was back and everyone was excited. Yup! they had come to hear Jesus. After he’d finished he’d done a bit of a walk round and as you’d gone back to where you’d parked you’d seen him heading up town and he’d bumped into a rather rough looking guy, dressed all in black with a gang patch on his back. He’d had his picture in the paper and they’d said he was involved in drugs and prostitution. Jesus had said something to him, the guy had smiled and they’d gone off together. I guess that did leave you a bit worried. I mean why didn’t he come back to the church for a cup of tea?
Anyway that was then now you have to deal with that noise. You get to the gate of the house and the gates open. Some of your other good neighbours are there obviously feed up but not quite having enough courage to barge in You look in and try to get up the courage to go in and confront them and your shocked by what you see, there is Jesus in the midst of all that’s going on there. I mean the guys all have a bottle of beer in their hands and the women seem to be dressed in not that much really they’re all dancing to the music, If you can call that music and if you can call that dancing. And there is Jesus in there with them. He seems right at home, but as you watch you notice that he treats them with great dignity and somehow they seem so different in his presence to what you’d thought they were like. But this can’t be right.
You spot one of his disciples coming out and you say hey ‘What is Jesus doing hanging round eating with these guys?’ You’d had to shout to be heard over the sound system and of course right at the moment you’d said it the music had died down and it had rung out across the front lawn and into the house, they’d all heard you. They all turn to look. Then Jesus moves towards you and says “ It’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick, I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Then he invites you to join the party what do you do?
Well maybe it’s not that fair to put you in this sort of situation. Maybe it’s not fair to stereotype people in this way. But I hope it allows us to enter in to the scripture in a way that helps us to relate to what was going on. To catch something of the encounter of Jesus with the tax collector Levi and his friends and a group of religious people from called the Pharisees. The hope is that as we engage with mark’s gospel ‘the Good news of Jesus the messiah’ we will have a close encounter of the Jesus kind. We will allow Jesus to speak into our lives and hearts in a way that will bring transformation and new life for us and our community.
Once again I want to invite you to focus on the people in this narrative.
Firstly the gospel is about Jesus and the central question when we look at the incidences that Mark tells us is what do they tell us about Jesus?
In Mark’s introduction we are told this is the good news of Jesus the messiah and scholars have often talked about Mark’s gospel being like a mystery story as we discover what Jesus being the messiah means, and why that’s good news. We catch a glimpse of the heavenly perspective of who Jesus is in his baptism and marks account of his temptation. John the Baptist tells us that while he baptises with water one will come who will baptise people with God’s spirit. A voice from heaven says This is my son in whom I am well pleased, and then in his temptation we see that Jesus coming bring him into conflict with Satan and evil and that Jesus defeats them.
In the narratives of his ministry we see him calling people to follow, we see that Jesus has authority to heal the sick and to cast out unclean spirits, that Jesus being the messiah restores people to health and wholeness. We see Jesus proclaiming the word, and then in his encounter with the paralysed man we see Jesus claim authority to forgive sins. As the teachers of the law say only God can do that.
Now we see what Jesus messiah ship means for people labelled sinners and outcasts. Jesus being the messiah means they are called back into a relationship with God. He invites Levi a tax collector to come and follow him. Which he does, he leaves his job and his post and follows Jesus. We see that Jesus hosts a party at Levi’s house where all Levi’s friends themselves tax-collectors and other social outcasts are welcomed to sit down and share table fellowship with Jesus. When he is questioned by religious teachers Jesus says that he has come not for the righteous by for the sinner and the outcast. Jesus messiahship means that God invites all people no matter who they are or what they have done to come and follow him. AS Phillip Yancy says Jesus good news was a revolution of grace. The metaphor Jesus uses is that of a doctor. A doctor is not there for people who think they are healthy but rather for those who know they are sick and in need of healing. I couldn’t help but think of the statistics you hear in New Zealand about where doctors open practises, there is a good ratio of people to doctors in the more affluent areas of the country, but in places like south Auckland the ratio of doctors to patients is a lot higher and the health issue are greater. Maybe it gives us a good understanding of the illustration Jesus uses.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus starts his sermon on the mount with the beatitudes attitudes that are essential for those who would follow Jesus and the first one is this blessed are the poor of spirit, not the people who think they are spiritually OK or even prosperous and righteous but those who know that they have a need for God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, for there’s is the kingdom of God says Jesus.
There are two groups of people that encounter Jesus in this narrative; one is Levi and his fellow tax collectors. Tax collectors were social out casts because they were often corrupt and also they worked for foreign powers, they we seen as collaborators and traitors. Levi and his friends hear Jesus call to follow him and as it says in verse 15 there were many of them who came to follow Jesus. Levi responses to Jesus call to follow him by leaving behind his job and being willing to be one of Jesus disciples. In Luke’s gospel we have this same incident recorded where Levi is called Matthew, perhaps a name change, like Saul became Paul. Matthew is one of the twelve and historically is attributed with writing the gospel that bears his name. We don’t know how much of what Jesus had been teaching that Levi had heard, but when Jesus invites Levi to follow he does. In Luke’s gospel the short tax collector Zacchaeus is shown to us as being the ultimate example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. That’s in contrast to some one we only know as the Rich young ruler who was came to Jesus looking for Jesus praise he had keep all the commands and was a good person but when Jesus tells him that all that remains for him to do is sell all you own give the money to the poor and come follow me walked away from Jesus. Zacchaeus on the other hand in r4esponse to Jesus friendship willingly with out being asked offers to give half his money to the poor and use the rest to pay back four times what he had stolen from anyone.
These people labelled outcasts know their need for God and experience his love in Jesus and they respond to his offer of grace and forgiveness with costly discipleship.
The other group that encounter Jesus are the teachers of the law, in this case people who belong to the Pharisees a group who were very determined to keep the law, both the Torah the first five books of the bible but also a whole set of other laws that had been developed as a hedge round the law. They were pious people, good people. They gave money to the poor; they prayed regularly, they went to the temple or the synagogue regularly. They were probably people we’d really appreciate as next-door neighbours. But in order to stay ritually clean before god they chose not to associate themselves with people they though of as unclean. They wouldn’t eat with them just in case they were served something that was not kosher.
They wanted to live righteous and godly lives but to do that they cut themselves off from so many people in the community labelling them as sinners. Maybe they had really loved Jesus teaching and his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, but it shocked them to see Jesus openly identify with tax collectors and other undesirables. Jesus was risking becoming ritually unclean. Jesus behaviour turned there understanding of righteousness and God love on its head. They were worried about being contaminated, but Jesus was the lifethe party where ever he went it wasn’t fun central he wasn’t the life and soul of the party rather people felt accepted and loved and invited back to know God not labelled and written off.
Well, how do you need to encounter Jesus this morning? Are you like Levi and you hear Jesus saying to you come and follow me. You might not even know that much about Jesus but here he is and he’s calling you to follow him. Are you willing to get up and leave what you now and follow him?
Are their people Jesus is asking you to throw a party for to introduce them to your friend Jesus? Are there people that God is calling you to invite into your home and lives so they might experience this revolution of grace. It’s interesting that at the church I grew up in Auckland we used to have what we called Levi parties where people would invite their friends not to church but to a feast a dinner party where their was a speaker who would just share their story or talk on a subject related to knowing Jesus. Alpha I guess picks this up with its emphasise on sitting down to a meal together and sharing fellowship with one another.
In the little reflection I started the message with I did invite you to find yourselves in the position of the teachers of the law and I have to admit I often find myself much to my shame feeling as if I’m standing amidst these people. A friend of mine sent me an essay he was working on where he talks of a generation of people who have written the church off as ‘Judgemental, hypocritical and irrelevant’ maybe that’s how the church and Christian people are perceived in the community. Maybe it’s a justifiable critique. As we encounter Jesus today he’s inviting us to step past our preconceived ideas of people and the stereotypes with which we can write them off and show Jesus like hospitality?
Yeah you know that’s risky, there are good reasons we want to keep some people at arms length. In Rotorua when I was working with young people we found a number of teenagers who for one reason or another were out of home and sleeping in the city parks. People told us we needed to be very careful before we had them in our home just short term. They had a lot of good reasons why we shouldn’t do it. But in the end you know Jesus love and grace shown to us compelled us to do it. Who is Jesus inviting you to show his love and acceptance to?