Later Jesus and His disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers.
Such read the sentences from The Message’s paraphrase of Mark 2:15. Here is Jesus — surrounded by disreputable characters. Seemingly having a good time. And even more importantly, having divine relationship with the local riffraff. Over and over, we find the Holy One hanging with the undesirables of His day — prostitutes, tax collectors, common laborers, swindlers — notable sinners and outcasts all. And unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them became His followers.
Funny how often the very ones we think are furthest from knowing God are the ones who end up becoming His friends, as evidenced by His companionship with Levi, and Mary Magdalene, and Saul, and . . . yours truly. Yes, thankfully the Lord chooses to keep company with the likes of me, too.
Though I recognize my desperate need for a Savior as I flounder in my own sin-sickness, I can’t help but wonder where I would have stood in this scene set in Mark. For while there was a collection of His disciples alongside Levi the tax collector and the folks still hung up in their nasty habits, there was also another crowd on the fringes. When the upstanding religious elite saw the company Jesus was keeping, they couldn’t help but offer their two cents’ worth (which might just be an over-evaluation of their comment’s value to Jesus). I can’t help but smile at Eugene Peterson’s choice of words for the encounter between Jesus’ disciples and the smug traditionalists: The religious scholars and Pharisees saw Him keeping this kind of company and lit into the disciples: “What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?”
What kind of example, indeed. Who does Jesus think He is?!? Oh, that’s right. He’s pretty confident He is the Son of God who came to save men from their sins. The kind of Savior who chooses to place Himself among the kind of people who need to be saved. Who will welcome Him for dinner . . . and for a lifetime of relationship beyond that.
While there are many things to be learned from God’s Holy Writ, the one take-away I’m pulled toward today is in wondering what my response might be to this same scenario. It’s easy to want to reduce Christianity to merely a topic of conversation, a worldview, a religion, or a tradition passed down through generations. But true Christianity is much more than flaunting a talisman for others to admire, or for self to possess. Rather, it is a faith that transforms souls and delivers lives from death. It is a message come in the Person of Jesus Christ with the power to change Levi the tax collector into Matthew the disciple, Simon the fisherman into Peter the Rock, and Saul the persecutor of Christians into Paul the apostle of God. Just to name a few.
Woe to the one who places confines upon Jesus. As Mark 6:3 warns: They tripped over what little they knew about Him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.
Limited knowledge of God confined the religious leaders of the day to place finite limits upon Him, thereby blockading themselves from the entrance of faith. Because they could not envision Jesus operating beyond the boundaries of their own religious venue, they failed to truly see Him at all.
Jesus is Christianity — a living, consuming Savior who invites the riffraff of the world into intimate relationship with the divine.
As I close my Bible upon this portion of Scripture, I can’t help but wonder who would show up to join Jesus for dinner today.
I also wonder who might show up to express their disapproval.
Most of all, I wonder if I would be seated at the table with Him, or find myself standing among the scoffers.
What about you?