Journeying with Mark – Week 5

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[Continuing the year-long series Journeying in the Gospel of Mark]

Mark 2:13-22

“Why does he eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

One leading, contemporary scholar writes: “As was true normally in the ancient Near East, to have a fellowship meal with people, to recline at table with them, implied you accepted them in your company.”[1] Thereby, the audience is left to infer that Jesus accepted (we could read this as embraced) tax collectors and sinners.

The Greek term translated as “tax collector” identifies Jews who were helping collect funds for the Roman oppressors. A central text in Rabbinic Judaism, the Talmud associates such tax collectors with murderers and thieves. Their fellow Jews despised them as traitors. “Sinners,” on the other hand, is a more broad term, and does not identify any particular people, vocation, or activity. We should not see “sinners” as merely the ritually unclean; rather these are people who are guilty of evil in major ways and reject the religious impetus to repentance. While not all sinners are tax collectors, certainly all tax collectors would be considered sinners.

The picture is clear. Jesus is fellowshipping with socio-political traitors and socio-religious outcasts. Jesus is fraternizing with the unjust, the immoral, indeed the enemy.

“Why does he eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Presumably, Jesus does so to further his message: “The time is now. The Kingdom of God is here. Repent, and believe the good news.”[2] And this presumption leads us to naturally wonder: How did this encounter with Jesus transform these so-called sinners? Yet, today I’m drawn toward this same question but in reverse: How did this encounter with these so-called sinners transform Jesus?

From experience I am able to attest that when I accept someone, when I embrace the other I am changed. Something miraculous, maybe we can call it divine, happens when we embrace – when we acknowledge the love created within the very core (the most vulnerable, fallible center) of all people, including the unjust, the immoral, indeed the enemy. To think that Jesus remains unchanged after such an embrace would make him into something less than fully human. Therefore, I wonder: How did this encounter with these so-called sinners transform Jesus?

It might be that practicing such acceptance, such embrace empowered Jesus to live what I believe to be the most challenging of his convictions: (Matthew 5:44) “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

But don’t take my word for it…

[1] Ben Witherington III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. (Eerdmans, 2001) pg. 122.

[2] Here are my thoughts on Mark 1:15

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