Righteous or self- righteous?  Saturday, 1st week in ordinary time-Mark 2: 13-17

We enter into the second of the five conflict stories that appear one after the other in Chapters 2:1-3:6. The opponents here are the ‘scribes of the Pharisees’. The scribes were the interpreters and the teachers of the Old Testament law; for them this was an occupation. Then there were the Pharisees who were a fraternity of pious persons. The ‘scribes of the Pharisees’ were a group of people who did both; they merged business with faith.

The text of today’s Gospel also introduces us to the fifth disciple. So far in 1:16-20, Jesus has called Peter and Andrew, James and John. He is now walking by the Sea of Galilee when He sets His eyes on a toll collector in the service of Herod Antipas.  While no ‘Levi ‘exists in the list of twelve apostles, Matthew’s Gospel resolves the problem by naming himself as the tax collector thus indicating that Levi and Matthew are the same person.

The choice of Levi, a tax collector must have come as a shock to most of the conservative Jewish establishment and may I dare say even to his own disciples. The term sinner, hamartoloi in Greek, which translates more accurately as ‘missing the mark’ ,  were persons whose occupation or life-style prevented them from full observance of the Jewish Law. A good example was the shepherds who could not attend synagogue services because they were out in the pastures tending sheep or were ritually unclean as a consequence of it.

Though there were other ‘sinners’ who were notoriously immoral, the term ‘sinners’ were more a social characterization than a moral judgment. Levi would be considered both a social characterization and also a notoriously immoral person making his call to be a disciple extremely controversial.

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