As we move into our second week of “Joy to the Work!,” we begin looking at how God works so we emulate His character in our work. One of the passages we are looking at this week, Mark 2:13-17, we see Jesus calling the disciples Levi (most scholars believe this is the disciple Matthew). He is a “tax collector.” Some translations refer to him as a “toll collector,” which is probably more accurate.
Tax collectors of the day would be concerned with income and property taxes; where toll collectors would be similar to the attendants we see working at toll booths along the highways. Most likely, Levi worked at a toll station along the Via Maris, a popular trade route which ran from Damascus to Caesarea, passing through Capernaum. Levi would collect taxes as a customs agent, charging for sales, customs, and road taxes. These tolls would be collected for Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea.
Tax/toll collectors were often seen as traitors, charging their countrymen as they tried to earn an honest living, giving the taxes to Rome. They were also viewed as “unclean” for all their mixing with non-Jewish people. Tax collectors were oftentimes also very dishonest, lining their own pockets by charging extra taxes above the requirement. They were seen as so dishonest, they were not allowed to serve as witnesses or judges. This disgrace was extended to their families as well.
After inviting Levi to follow him, Jesus then has a meal at Levi’s house with other tax collectors and “sinners.” Sharing a meal was a very intimate setting in the ancient Near East. Pharisees and teachers of the law were very careful with whom they ate with, not wanting to come in contact with anything or anyone who might make them ceremonially unclean. They assumed Jesus would also desire to hold himself to this standard, they were wrong.
As we grow in our faith, we naturally spend more time with our friends from church, make friends with others Christians at work, and slowly, our circle of non-Christian friends dwindles. We say we don’t enjoy the language they use or are uncomfortable around their topics of conversation and we place ourselves in a “Christian-bubble,” protecting ourselves from “the world.” This is not what Jesus intends.
In our passage, Jesus demonstrates an intimate relationship with toll collectors and sinners, for it is the sick who need a doctor. Jesus desires us to build relationships with non-Christians because it is they who need to know Jesus as Savior. If we stick to our “holy-huddles,” we’ll never know a non-Christian well enough to be able to speak into their lives and introduce them to The One who is the answer to all their challenges, The One who heals, The One who saves!
Go invite someone who doesn’t know Jesus out for lunch or a cup of coffee and begin building a relationship like Jesus did…one day, prayerfully, you’ll be able to introduce them to Him!!