Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ – Mark 2:13-17
So many gospel stories feature Jesus talking to, interacting with, or helping people he was supposed to avoid. The hemorrhaging woman, his dead friend Lazarus, the Samaritan woman at the well, and tax collectors. Tax collectors were in a class of Jewish people who collected taxes for the Roman Empire, adding a bit extra for themselves, hence their unpopularity among their fellow Jews.
Yet, not only did Jesus tell Levi, the tax collector, to follow him, but he also ended the day by having dinner at Levi’s house with many other collectors. Undoubtedly, Jesus spoke and taught in a way that captured Levi’s heart, for Levi did become a disciple. Others probably followed Jesus as well, being drawn in by Jesus’s words and the power behind them.
Inevitably, Jesus was criticized for behaving in this way, eating with sinners who did not follow the law enough to suit the judgmental finger-pointers. There were always those eager to cast aspersions on Jesus or look for ways to get him in trouble.
Tattle-tales and judge-y people have been around since Creation. Noah’s neighbors laughed as he built the ark in his back yard. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because Joseph had talents they didn’t, letting their jealousy get the better of them. Workers pointed fingers at co-workers who made the same amount in Jesus’ parable even though the co-workers put in fewer hours. Not much has changed. Neighbors still gossip and sometimes laugh, brothers and sisters strive to gain a higher place in their parents’ esteem. Workers are eager to back-stab their fellow laborers so they can climb the corporate ladder or gain superiority.
Jesus experienced the Pharisees and Scribes as major tattle-tales and finger-pointers. They followed him, making notes and sending reports back to their superiors in Jerusalem to add to the growing file on this Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus just continued to do what he knew his job to be – preaching, teaching, and modeling a life God wanted for all the people. His parables were teaching tools through which the people considered to be outsiders became the heroes. Ordinary people enjoyed the stories, especially those set in familiar settings with protagonists who were like themselves. The stories drew them closer to Jesus, while his miracles and care for others showed them a better way of life. It still works today.
The statement, “‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” certainly rings with us in this age of pandemic and seemingly endless variants. So many deny that there is anything wrong, that they might get sick or even die, or that they can make others ill and risk death because they take no precautions for themselves or others. We know so much more about epidemiology and healthcare than the people in Jesus’s day. Yet, we ignore warnings and possible aid because Jesus didn’t get vaccinated or wear a mask. People say God will protect them, just like what Noah’s neighbors thought when Noah pedicted the upcoming flood. To have faith in God is extremely important, yet God expects us to help ourselves and, even more critical, our neighbors, whether we know them or not.
Rather than point fingers or judge, it might be good for us to try and be humble, working harder on curing our own faults and far less on those of others. Yes, there are times when we have to be judges to prevent harm and protect the less fortunate. But those times should be few, far between, and to the benefit of the community, not the judge. Jesus would want it that way.