Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 17 2013 - Mark 2:13-3:6 – I have not come to call the righteous

Levi was a tax collector for the Roman government. No doubt he was sitting in his tax collector's booth beside the road in order to charge taxes on those bringing goods into the town to trade. Jesus called Levi to become one of his followers and that's just what Levi did. More than that, he threw a party to celebrate the fact that he had become a follower of Jesus. Jesus and his disciples were there; so also were Levi's friends – fellow tax collectors and other social outcasts. When the Pharisees saw what was going on they presented their accusation against Jesus in the form of a question to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Mark 2:16). Overhearing their accusation, Jesus responded, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (2:17).

In his book, What's So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey writes of the way in which Jesus attracted "sinners" and was comfortable in their company. He comments that this is often not the case with the church today. He recounts talking with a woman who had got herself into deep trouble and whose life was in a terrible mess. He had asked her whether she had turned to the church for help and had received the caustic reply, “They are the last people I would turn to.” She had feared that she would be despised and judged rather than being embraced and helped.

On a Sunday morning a few years ago I was speaking in the church we attended. I had been leading a series on the church and on that Sunday morning was speaking on the subject of the church being there for others. One young woman came into the church that morning for the first time. She seemed a little worse-for-wear and, as the service started, she took a bottle of wine from a plastic bag, poured some of the contents into a coffee mug and began to drink. Someone suggested to her that this was not an appropriate way to behave in a church service. Loudly protesting that we all drank wine in church at our communion services, she got up and walked out. Thankfully, someone accompanied her outside and spent some time talking with her, but I could not help but feel the incongruity of the situation. Isn’t there something wrong with the structure of our churches if we cannot accommodate those in real need? Who is the church for?

I recognise that these questions are not as simple as they seem. The church is more than meetings for worship on a Sunday. The one-to-one conversation in the church porch may have been more appropriate for this needy lady than her continued and disruptive presence in the service. But I wonder what she felt about the church that morning as she walked away to finish off her bottle of wine. What would have happened if someone had shared a little of the wine with her on the church steps – and perhaps a broken biscuit or two?

I don’t think that I have any clever answers to these questions, but I am left with the feeling that we, the followers of the Lord Jesus, had failed to welcome sinners and eat with them.

Lord God, I recognise that I have much more to learn from the Lord Jesus. I recognise also that I would prefer order and tranquillity in the company of respectable friends to the disruption and demand of those whose lives are in a mess. Help me to follow Christ even when it means leaving the security of my comfort zone. I recognise my own weakness. Strengthen me by your Spirit and help me to respond wisely and well to those in need of your transforming power.

Peter Misselbrook