When love bypasses the heart – Saturday, 1st week in ordinary time – Mk 2:13-17
This is a rapidly unfolding situation and the hostility against Jesus is evident. Yesterday we read the first controversy narrative where the scribes questioned Jesus actions ‘in their heart’. Today what is in their heart is expressed on their lips but not to the master himself but his disciples. Soon we will hear of their boldness in addressing Jesus himself with their hate filled accusations.
For now we are at the Lake of Galilee on the banks of the village of Capernaum. Jesus’ popularity is evident as the crowds have not diminished and it is not merely his miracles they seek for we are told they admired the way he spoke with authority (1:27).
The Gospel tells us that Jesus is teaching the crowds and perhaps this detail is often lost on us. While the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is often portrayed as a healing ministry, it is primarily one of teaching and preaching.
For now the narrative tells us that Jesus, while walking along, calls the fifth apostle, Levi. (also known as Matthew) Levi is a tax collector and just like his four previous companions he is called personally by the Master. There is an urgency in the call which is met with an equally matched response. We are told that Levi “got up and followed him.”
It is here that that the controversy begins for tax collectors were considered among the most notorious sinners and were particularly despised in Israel. They were viewed as collaborators with the Roman occupiers, who placed a heavy tax burden on the people. Because they dealt with Gentiles and Gentile money, they were considered unclean. They were also known to be greedy. They were assigned a region and a fixed sum to collect, and were allowed to collect as much additional money as they could for profit. No self-respecting Rabbi would every associate himself with such a person.
Jesus has just about stirred the pot of controversy for he not only welcomes Levi as his disciple but now eats at his house and is joined by many tax collectors and sinners. Sharing a meal at table was not merely done for the satisfaction of bodily hunger; for a Jew it meant that you were now welcome into their world and Jesus had now entered the world of sinful humanity.
The ‘scribes of the Pharisees’ (scribes indicates an occupation and Pharisees a fraternity of pious persons) lack the courage to question Jesus directly and so turn their ire to his disciples. Earlier he had read their hearts, now he hears their words and nothing has changed in their minds.
In their minds, the scribes of the Pharisees believed themselves to be righteous. In reality they were not, for they failed to acknowledge God as the source of genuine righteousness and grew to believe that it rested in them. It is for this reason that Jesus says, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners”.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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