If you start thinking about thinking you aren’t thinking anymore. I believe C.S. Lewis said something similar about worship. If you start thinking about the fact that you are worshipping then suddenly you aren’t worshipping anymore.
I believe the same thing is true about mission. And with all our talk about going on mission and living a missional life its really hard to actually just eat with tax collectors and sinners like Jesus did. As soon as we do something legit like this we have to pull out our smartphones and Instagram our new buds so all of the social media universe can see us setting an example and being like Jesus hanging with the sinners and tax collectors of the world.
I preached on Mark 2:13-17 this past week and for the life of me I couldn’t come into the text the right way. What I mean is that all my cultural baggage wanted to make this passage about something that I now believe is a bit of a minor point. I wanted this passage to be about me and mission. But in reality it is about Jesus. I wanted the point to be about following Jesus in his mission of eating with tax collectors and sinners. And that may very well be an application point somewhere down the line, but I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit through Mark wants us to see Jesus in this passage more than we see ourselves.
What Mark wants his readers to get is that Jesus is the type of Messiah who actually gets hands dirty by touching lepers and healing those who are physically and spiritually unclean. He’s the type of Messiah who touches the unclean and makes them clean rather than the other way around. He’s the one who identifies with sinners so that the sinners and tax collectors are made into disciples. It’s not as if Jesus hangs with sinners and tax collectors and somehow becomes a tax-collecting sinner.
This is precisely what the religious leaders couldn’t see. In their mind Messiah would rid the world of filthy by putting sinners in their place. He’d set the righteous (those Law-keeping Pharisees) on a pedestal and he’d cast those dirty Gentiles and those sell-outs like Levi out of God’s land. They didn’t imagine that he’d heal God’s land by touching and transforming sinners.
In the minds of every one in Jesus’ day, and lets face it our own as well, the world was divided into “the righteous” and “the sinners”. You fall into one category or the other based upon your personal performance and your passion for God-things like the Torah. But Jesus blows this whole idea up. Yeah, the world is divided into righteous and sinners, with Jesus on one side and the whole lot of us on the other. Our only hope of ever being put on the righteous side is to be identified with Jesus.
And that is the point. The problem with walking into this passage and making it about hanging with tax collectors and sinners is that I put myself in the wrong place in the story. I’m not Jesus. I’m either the Pharisee grumbling on the sideline or I’m one of the sinners invited to the party. Until I get this—and get this in a way that it goes down so deep that I don’t even think about the fact that I’m eating with tax collectors and sinners—I’ll only hang out with people to get a badge of honor.
You see this is what bothers me so much about questions like this one proposed by Matthew Vines: “How many openly LGBT people would say you are one of their closest friends?” The second I make my relationship with an LGBT person a badge of honor I’m no longer on mission hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, I’m on mission to self-justify. I’m guilty of trying to make my acceptance before God based upon how much I’mlike Jesus in hanging with sinners, instead of realizing that my acceptance before God is based upon being identified with Jesus though I’m every bit as much a sinner as anyone else.
If we were to really get the message of Mark 2:13-17 then I don’t believe we’d have much of an issue with being with tax collectors and sinners because we’d rightly identify ourselves in the story. And in doing so we’d realize that every where we go and every meal we eat is with a sinner; namely, ourselves. As Luther said, “I’m not good and righteous but Christ is.” And that is all that matters. That’s all that matters for me and its all that matters for those whom the world and the church labels as modern day tax collectors and sinners. Drink deeply from this well of grace and I’m convinced you’ll look like Jesus in who you hang out with and you won’t even have to fake it on social media.