Jesus the Physician, and His Fellowship, Mark 2:13-17 – Part 1

The Reading of the Word

This morning, we come to Mark 2:13-17, a text which we will spend the next two Sundays on.

Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.

2:13 He [that is, Jesus] went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This is the word of the Lord.  (Thanks be to God.)

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]

Let’s pray …

Prayer of Illumination

We praise you, Lord,

and we ask you to teach us your ways and your truth.

Help us to take your Word into our hearts and onto our lips.

Make us to delight in your testimony more than in riches.

Help us to meditate on your precepts,

and to fix our eyes on your ways.

Grant us to delight in your truth,

and to never forget your Word.

In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

[Based on Psalm 119:12-16]

Introduction

In our text this morning, Jesus presents himself as a spiritual physician. And as he does, he tells us something about how he relates to sinners, and how he relates to the righteous.

Jesus & Sinners

When it comes to sinners, what we see is that Jesus seeks sinners, Jesus calls sinners, and Jesus communes with sinners.

Jesus Seeks Sinners

So first, Jesus seeks sinners. And we see this in verses thirteen and fourteen, where we are told that Levi’s relationship with Jesus did not begin because he came to Jesus, but because Jesus came to him. Jesus sought out Levi, a well-known sinner.

But why do we say that Levi was a sinner?

Levi was a tax collector. But that wasn’t the kind of career it is today. We’ll get into more detail next week about what kind of tax collector Levi may have been, but in any case, Levi had sought out a line of work in which he would have opportunities to enrich himself, and prey on the weak, by aligning himself with an oppressive force. There were ample opportunities to make a profit by abusing his power. [Schmidt, 805b] And doing so was so common that “tax collectors and sinners” are simply lumped together in our text. Rabbinic literature from this period spoke of tax collectors in the same category as robbers [m. B. Kamma 10.2; m. Nedarim 3.4; m. Tohoroth 7.6]. Some Roman literature categorized them with brothel owners [Schmidt, 805b]. Tax collectors then were not like IRS agents today. They were more often people who entered that line of work in order to use the might of the government to enrich themselves by exploiting the less powerful people around them.

Levi may have disliked his notorious status. He may have even regretted the decisions he made that brought him where he was. But it was likely a situation of his own making. He chose to side with his people’s oppressors so that he could personally make a profit – and it is likely that he too was abusing the system in order to take from others. And so “sinner” is not just a term of abuse that the scribes of the Pharisees throw at Levi. It is also a fact. It is what Levi was, and what everyone knew him to be.

And yet, Jesus sought him. Jesus approached Levi. Jesus initiated a relationship with Levi. That is the first thing for us to see here. Jesus seeks sinners.

And if you are a sinner, then that truth applies to you as well. Even if your sin is serious. Even if your sin is notorious. Even if you too felt trapped in your sin. Even so, Jesus this morning seeks you, just as surely as he sought Levi. Jesus came to seek sinners.

Jesus Calls Sinners

Second, Jesus calls sinners to a response. We read in verse fourteen that Jesus “said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And [Levi] rose and followed him.”

Jesus sought Levi. But that seeking required a response from Levi. To use Jesus’ metaphor in verse seventeen, a physician may seek the sick. But the sick must receive the treatment. A response of some kind is needed. And that is what we see here.

Central to that response is the word “follow.” It is what Jesus calls Levi to, and what we’re told Levi does. But the Greek word used there for “followed” does not describe a mere walk. In all four Gospels it is only used of Jesus’s disciples, and in Mark’s Gospel it is a weighty word, used to describe faith and discipleship. [Edwards, 81-82]

And so, Jesus seeks sinners, but he also calls them to a response. He calls them to faith. He calls them to follow. And Levi does.

And we must as well. If you are here this morning, and you know your sin – that is a start. But knowing is not enough. Hearing is not enough. Jesus requires a response. We need to trust him, and then we need to follow him.

That following may lead to great disruptions in our lives – it certainly did for Levi. But if we want what Jesus has to give us, we must follow him. He may turn our lives upside down, but he will do it for our good. We may not know where he is leading us, but we know that he does, and he is good. And so, we must follow. For that is what Jesus calls sinners to.

Jesus Communes with Sinners

Third, Jesus communes with sinners. That is what we read in verse fifteen. “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

Now, there’s a lot to unpack in this one verse.

First of all, what is described here is a meaningful gathering of fellowship and communion. The description of “reclining at table” doesn’t indicate a quick casual meal, but a meaningful and personal gathering together. [Bayer, 1896] It was a time of real connection and intimacy – that is what Jesus has here with these tax collector and sinners.

Second, Jesus meets them on their turf. He goes to them. While it’s ambiguous in the ESV, the text seems to indicate that Jesus went to Levi’s house. Jesus entered into Levi’s home and setting. [France, 133] He came onto Levi’s turf, to be with him, to dwell with him, to meet him where he was.

Third, we learn that Levi was not an isolated incident. In verses fifteen we read that “many” tax collectors and sinners were gathered with Jesus – many of them had followed Jesus, and now many were eating with him. We should note that in verse sixteen the Pharisees use the term “sinners” not to indicate “occasional transgressors” of God’s law, but for those who were believed to be living well outside of God’s law. [Edwards, 83] Those are the kind of people Jesus is eating with.

Fourth, Jesus seems to be communing with them well before they’ve had time to prove themselves, and clean up their acts. If these sinners had already taken the time to thoroughly rid their lives of sin, and then Jesus communed with them, it’s hard to believe that the Pharisees would object. No – what’s so shocking to them is that Jesus communes with these sinners even before they’ve gotten their lives together. Jesus wants their lives to be transformed – we cannot doubt that, for he came preaching repentance [Mark 1:15]. But his fellowship with sinners was not contingent on the completion of their repentance – it actually came well before it. That is what was so shocking to the scribes of the Pharisees. [Edwards, 85-86; France, 136]

Jesus seeks sinners. He calls them to follow him. And then he communes with them in real relationship and fellowship, well before they’ve gotten their acts together. That is how Jesus responds to sinners.

And if we are sinners, then it is how Jesus will respond to us. If you are here this morning, and you know your sin – you know that you are spiritually sick, then Jesus is seeking you. He is calling you. He is inviting you to draw close and commune with him. Your call this morning is to respond: to follow him, and receive what he offers you.

The first thing we see here is how Jesus relates to sinners.

Jesus & the Righteous

Second, we see how Jesus relates to the righteous.

And we need to start by asking who Jesus means by “the righteous” here.

In the text itself, he is speaking both to and about the “scribes of the Pharisees,” as we read in verse sixteen.

That term “the scribes of the Pharisees” is an unusual one, but it tells us who we are dealing with. This was not just the regular members of the religious party of the Pharisees. It’s the scribes within the Pharisee party – and so those who, even more than ordinary Pharisees, had a special interest in the observance of God’s law. [France, 134]

But more important than that, it describes those who believed they had faithfully kept God’s law. Jesus, after all, doesn’t actually say that they are “righteous,” but he speaks of “the righteous” as a category. It’s the scribes of the Pharisees who would have applied that category to themselves.

And so, the “righteous” as Jesus refers to them here, are specifically those who consider themselves to be spiritually well, in and of themselves – those who believe they are already spiritually healthy, by their own strength. They are those who believe that they have already made themselves good and acceptable before God, by their own nature, or their own work.

And Jesus then does three things for those who assess themselves as righteous.

Jesus Offends the Righteous

First, Jesus offends them. He offends those who believe they are, in and of themselves, righteous and good. And he does this by eating with, rather than rejecting, sinners.

By choosing to give sinners access to his presence in a meal, Jesus already offended those who believed that their righteousness should have purchase them greater access to a spiritual leader like Jesus. And by not giving them that special access, Jesus was already indicating that he did not value their supposed “righteousness” the same way they did. His very actions disputed whether they really were righteous in the way they thought they were.

For that reason, Jesus, as he is presented in the Bible, is regularly an offense to those who think that they are good enough to merit a place in God’s presence themselves.

Jesus Excludes the Righteous

Second, Jesus then goes a step further, and at least with his words, he actively excludes those who consider themselves righteous. He says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” In other words, it’s not just that their righteousness has little or no value, but that it has negative value – because Jesus here says that if they are placing their trust in their own righteousness, then that false trust will actually exclude them from his fellowship.

And we can miss how shocking that would have been.

These are the scribes of the Pharisees. These are the ones who, in a culture shot through with compromise – in a culture under siege – they had stood for devotion to God’s word when so many others had given in to the dominant influences of Greek thought and pagan religion. [Ferguson, 29]

They had worked hard. They had sacrificed much. They had (so they reasoned) earned a seat at the table. Because of all they had done. Because of their righteousness. And instead, Jesus tells them that by that very claim – by trusting in their own righteousness – he was instead going to exclude them.

The second thing Jesus does is that he excludes those who consider themselves righteous.

Jesus Shows the Righteous the Way of Repentance

Third, Jesus shows the righteous the way of repentance. He doesn’t connect all the dots for them here, but he does provide all the pieces that they need. By embracing sinners rather than the supposedly righteous, Jesus tells them that their righteousness is not what they think it is. He reveals that they are not as good as they think they are. They have not actually made themselves right with God by their own efforts. By embracing sinners Jesus reveals that the so-called righteousness of the scribes of the Pharisees is not true righteousness at all, but a delusion.

That was not easy for them to hear. And it’s not easy for us to hear either. We often over-value our own righteousness. We over-assess our own goodness. We think we are better than we really are. And Jesus confronts us too for that, just as he does the scribes of the Pharisees.

But then second, Jesus shows them that not only is their righteousness far less valuable than they thought it was … it has actually become a snare. Because they have placed their trust in it rather than in the mercy of God.

If you do not believe you are sick, you will not go to a physician seeking a cure. And if you do not believe you are a sinner, then you will not come to God seeking mercy. A delusion of health when it’s not really there – a delusion of righteousness when it’s not really there – is not just an error in our self-appraisal. It’s an error that keeps us from what we most need.

In order to become well, we first must repent of the delusion that we already are well. In order to become righteous, we first must repent of the delusion that we already are righteous.

The first thing the supposedly righteous must do is repent of their righteousness – their false belief in their own merit … in their own virtue.

To come to Jesus, they must come to him as sinners. And to come to him as sinners, they must repent of their delusions of righteousness.

And the same can often be true of us.

What Does This Look Like?

But what does this really look like?

The question reminded me of a short story by Flannery O’Connor … which I want to spend a bit more time on this morning than I typically would.

Flannery O’Connor was a Christian fiction writer from Georgia, who wrote in the 50s and 60s. Her writing style is sometimes called “Southern Gothic,” and it often focuses on the hearts and minds of her southern characters. She frequently seeks to expose and critique how her characters think of themselves and others, including in terms of race and class.

As she does, her language choices at times (while they serve a particular purpose) could be jarring for us today, and so to keep it from distracting us from the main point I’ll make a few adjustments as we go along.

The story is titled “Revelation.” It’s set in the deep south, 60 years ago, and it begins with Ruby Turpin, a stout white woman in her late 40s, bringing her husband Claud to the doctor’s office to have his leg looked at.

As Mrs. Turpin enters the waiting room, she begins to evaluate those who are already there. She notes a woman there with her son, both of whom look dirty and poor, and she quickly labels them as “white trash.” She also notices a pleasant-looking woman, with a heavyset “girl of eighteen or nineteen, [by her side, who is] scowling into a thick blue book […] entitled Human Development.”Mrs. Turpin mentally notes the girl’s acne, and then thinks to herself how glad she is that even though she is overweight as well, at least she’s always had good skin, and even now, the only wrinkles she had were from laughing too much.

As they take a seat in the waiting room, Mrs. Turpin chats a bit with the girl’s mother. Then she silently turns her attention to the poorer family. And she begins to think.

“Sometimes at night when she couldn’t go to sleep,” O’Connor writes, “Mrs. Turpin would occupy herself with the question of who she would have chosen to be if she couldn’t have been herself. If Jesus had said to her before he made her, ‘There’s only two places available for you. You can either be [Black] or white-trash,’ what would she have said? ‘Please, Jesus, please,’ she would have said, ‘just let me wait until there’s another place available,’ and he would have said, ‘No, you have to go right now and I have only those two places so make up your mind.’ She would have wiggled and squirmed and begged and pleaded but it would have been no use and finally she would have said, ‘All right, make me [Black] then – but that don’t mean a trashy one.’ And he would have made her a neat clean respectable [Black] woman, herself, but black.”

As she thinks, she notices another woman in the room who, Mrs. Turpin decides is not “white-trash,” but just “common.”

“Sometimes,” O’Connor explains, “Mrs. Turpin occupied herself at night naming the classes of people. On the bottom of the heap were most colored people, not the kind she would have been if she had been one, but most of them; then next to them – not above, just away from – were the white-trash; then above them were the home-owners, and above them the home-and-land owners, to which she and Claud belonged, Above she and Claud were people with a lot of money and much bigger houses and much more land. But here the complexity of it would begin to bear in on her, for some of the people with a lot of money were common and ought to be below she and Claud and some of the people who had good blood had lost their money and had to rent and then there some colored people who owned their homes and land as well. […] Usually by the time she had fallen asleep all the classes of people were moiling and roiling around in her head, and she would dream they were all crammed in together in a box car, being ridden off to be put in a gas oven.”

Mrs. Turpin considers the teenage girl again and reflects on how thankful she is that she is not as ugly as the girl. She makes more conversation with the pleasant looking woman who is the girl’s mother, and as she does, the teenage girl closes her book, and begins to glare at Mrs. Turpin, who wonders why the girl seems to have focused her scowl at her in particular.

But she continues to talk with the pleasant-looking woman, and tells her about their farm: “If you want to make it in farming now,” she explains, “you have to have a little of everything. We got a couple of acres of cotton and a few hogs and chickens and just enough white-face [cattle] that Claud can look after them himself.”

Suddenly the poorer woman inserted herself into the conversation.

“‘One thang I don’t want,’ [she] said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. ‘Hogs. Nasty stinking things, a-gruntin and a-rootin all over the place.’

“Mrs. Turpin gave her the merest edge of her attention. ‘Our hogs are not dirty and they don’t stink,’ she said. ‘They’re cleaner than some children I’ve seen. Their feet never touch the ground. We have a pig-parlor – that’s where you raise them on concrete,’ she explained to the pleasant lady, ‘and Claud scoots them down with the hose every afternoon and washes off the floor.’ Cleaner by far [she thought to herself] than that child right there.” […]

“The [poorer] woman turned her face away from Mrs. Turpin. ‘I know I wouldn’t scoot down no hog with no hose,’ she said […].

“You wouldn’t have no hog to scoot down, Mrs. Turpin said to herself.”

She exchanged looks with the pleasant-looking woman, and continued to make friendly conversation with her, but noticed that the teenage girl’s eyes remained focused on her … her face seemed to be growing uglier and uglier … and her look seemed directed right at her. O’Connor writes: “She was looking at her as if she had known and disliked her all her life – all of Mrs. Turpin’s life, it seemed too, not just all the girl’s life. Why, girl, I don’t even know you, Mrs. Turpin said silently.”

As the conversation continued, Mrs. Turpin noticed a song on the radio with lyrics about helping one another out, and smiling whatever may come.

“Mrs. Turpin didn’t catch every word but she caught enough to agree with the spirit of the song and it turned her thoughts sober. To help anybody out that needed it was her philosophy of life. She never spared herself when she found somebody in need, whether they were white or black, trash or decent. And of all she had to be thankful for, she was most thankful that this was so. If Jesus had said, ‘You call be high society and have all the money you want and be thin and svelte-like, but you can’t be a good woman with it,’ she would have had to say, ‘Well don’t make me that then. Make me a good woman and it don’t matter what else, how fat or how ugly or how poor!’ Her heart rose. He had not made her [Black] or white-trash or ugly! He had made her herself and given her a little of everything. Jesus, thank you! she said. Thank you thank you! Whenever she counted her blessings she felt as buoyant as if she weighed one hundred and twenty five pounds instead of one hundred and eighty.”

Then, she turned her attention again to the poor white family – the boy and his mother. “There was nothing you could tell her about people like them that she didn’t know already,” she thought. “And it was not just that they didn’t have anything. Because if you gave them everything, in two weeks it would all be broken or filthy or they would have chopped it up for lightwood. She knew all this from her own experience. Help them you must, but help them you couldn’t.”

Then, all at once the teenage girl made another ugly face at her, with her eyes fixed on Mrs. Turpin as if there “was something urgent behind them.”

Determined not to be intimidated by the girl, Mrs. Turpin turned towards her. “‘You must be in college,’ she said boldly, looking directly at the girl. ‘I see you reading a book there.’

“The girl continued to stare and pointedly did not answer.

“Her mother blushed at this rudeness.

[…]

“‘Mary Grace goes to Wellesley College,’ [her mother] explained. […] ‘In Massachusetts,’ she added with a grimace. ‘And in the summer she just keeps right on studying. Just reads all the time, a real book worm. […]’

“The girl looked as if she would like to hurl them all through the plate glass window.

[…]

“‘I think people with bad dispositions are more to be pitied than anyone on earth,’ [her mother] said in a voice that was decidedly thin.

“‘I thank the Lord he has blessed me with a good one,’ Mrs. Turpin said. ‘The day has never dawned that I couldn’t find something to laugh at.’

[…]

“The girl made a loud ugly noise through her teeth.

“Her mother’s mouth grew thin and tight. ‘I think the worst thing in the world,’ she said, ‘is an ungrateful person. To have everything and not appreciate it.’

[…]

“‘It never hurt anyone to smile,’ Mrs. Turpin said. ‘It just makes you feel better all over’

“‘Of course,’ the lady said sadly, ‘but there are just some people you can’t tell anything to. They can’t take criticism.’

“‘If it’s one thing I am,’ Mrs. Turpin said with feeling, ‘It’s grateful. When I think who all I could have been besides myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting, “Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!” It could have been different!’ […] At the thought of this, she was flooded with gratitude and a terrible pang of joy ran through her. ‘Oh thank you, Jesus, Jesus, thank you!’ she cried aloud.  

“The book struck her directly, over her left eye. It struck almost at the same instant that she realized the girl was about to hurl it. Before she could utter a sound, the raw face came crashing across the table toward her, howling. The girl’s fingers sank like clamps into the soft flesh of her neck. […]

“All at once her vision narrowed and she saw everything as if it were happening in a small room far away, or as if she were looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope. […] The gangling figure of the doctor rushed [in] […]. Magazines flew this way and that as the table turned over. The girl fell with a thud and Mrs. Turpin’s vision suddenly reversed itself and she saw everything large instead of small. […] The girl, held down on one side by the nurse and on the other by her mother, was wrenching and turning in their grasp. The doctor was kneeling […] trying to hold her arm down. He managed after a second to sink a long needle into it.

[…]

“The girl’s eyes stopped rolling and focused on her.

[…]

“Mrs. Turpin’s head cleared and […] she leaned forward until she was looking directly into [the girl’s] fierce brilliant eyes. There was no doubt in her mind that the girl did know her, know her in some intense and personal way, beyond time and place and condition. ‘What you got to say to me?’ she asked hoarsely and held her breath, waiting, as for a revelation.

“The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. ‘Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,’ she whispered. Her voice was low but clear. Her eyes burned for a moment as if she saw with pleasure that her message had struck its target.

“Mrs. Turpin sank back in her chair.

“After a moment the girl’s eyes closed and she turned her head wearily to the side.”

In the flurry of events that follow, the girl is taken away in an ambulance, the doctor takes examines Mrs. Turpin, and then, after finally taking a look at Claud’s leg, he sends them both home.

Once home, she tries to lie down for a nap, but she cannot sleep. Instead, the image of a hog popped into her head, as she stared at the ceiling.

“‘I am not,’ she said tearfully, ‘a wart hog. From hell.’ But the denial had no force. The girl’s eyes and her words, […] directed only to her, brooked no repudiation. She had been singled out for the message, though there was trash in the room to whom it might justly have been applied. The full force of this fact struck her only now. There was a woman there who was neglecting her own child but she had been overlooked. The message had been given to Ruby Turpin, a respectable, hardworking, church-going woman. The tears dried. Her eyes began to burn instead with wrath.”

She got up, did some chores, then suddenly marched outside, and to the pigs, as Claud was hosing them down.

“Gimme that hose,” she said to Claud, and sent him back to the house, taking over his work.

Once Claud was out of earshot, she gathered herself up, and spoke to the heavens – addressing God.

“‘What do you send me a message like that for?’ she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury. ‘How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?’ […]

“‘Why me?’ she rumbled. ‘It’s no trash around here, black or white, that I haven’t given to. And break my back to the bone every day working. And do for the church.’

“[…] ‘How am I a hog?’ she demanded. ‘Exactly how am I like them?’ and she jabbed the stream of water at the [pigs]. ‘There was plenty of trash there. It didn’t have to be me.

“‘If you like trash better, go get yourself some trash then,’ she railed. ‘You could have made me trash. […] If trash is what you wanted, why didn’t you make me trash?” She shook her fist with the hose in it […] ‘I could quit working and take it easy and be filthy,’ she growled.

[…]

“She braced herself for a final assault and this time her voice rolled out over the pasture. ‘Go on,’ she yelled, ‘call me a hog! Call me a hog again. From hell. Call me a wart hog from hell. Put that bottom rail on top. There’ll still be a top and bottom!’

[…]

“A final surge of fury shook her and she roared, ‘Who do you think you are?’”

She stood there, as the day grew darker, for some time. And then, as the sun set, and she waited for an answer, she was suddenly given a vision.

She saw a streak of light, stretching from the ground to the sky, like “a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black [folks] in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away. […] In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile.”

After standing there for some time, she turned off the hose, turned back towards the house, and the story ends.

What we need to recognize this morning is that Jesus’s words to the scribes of the Pharisees would have struck them a bit like how Mary Grace’s words struck Mrs. Turpin.

Jesus said he had come to call sinners. To their ears, it was like telling them that he had come to gather trash.

He hadn’t come to call the righteous – which would have felt like a way of telling them that they weren’t really as better than others as they thought.

He had told them that to be saved, they would have to admit that in their hearts they too were unclean and sinful … they too were like hogs from hell.

He had told them that their righteousness was not worth anything to him … which was a bit like giving them a vision that if they were to enter the kingdom of heaven, then first, even their supposed virtues would have to be burned up.

He had told them that they would have to repent of their righteousness.

And so it is no wonder that, like Mrs. Turpin, the impulse that welled up within them was to stand before the Son of God, and say to him “Who do you think you are?”

The question is whether we see those impulses in ourselves as well.

Do we see that tendency to look down on others? To look at our social or economic status … to look at our family or our moral status … and to look down on others, and assure ourselves that we are righteous – we are good, we have God’s approval, in and of ourselves? We have earned it.

Do we too trust in our own righteousness, and cling to our own virtues – is that where we find our hope, our confidence, and our assurance?

And does the idea of being told to our faces that we, by our own nature, are sinful and unclean – that we are, in some sense, deep down, hogs from hell – does that thought first shock us … and then enrage us?

Jesus here calls us to see that if we want anything to do with him, we must acknowledge that first and foremost, we are sinners. We have made ourselves unclean like hogs. Our hearts have followed the ways of hell.

And we must repent of our righteousness – not of our earnest attempts to walk in God’s way, but of any trust we have placed in our good deeds. We must repent of our trust in our own virtue … and if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must offer up that false trust to be burned up. We must acknowledge that trust as sin itself. And we must turn to Jesus, and approach him not as those who are righteous – not as those who are well – but as sinners … as those who are desperately sick, and unable to heal ourselves.

For Jesus came to seek sinners. He came to call sinners. He came to be with sinners.

So, let us repent of our sin. But let us also repent of our righteousness. And let us instead embrace Jesus.

Amen.

 This sermon draws on material from:

Bayer, Hans. Introduction and notes to Mark in The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Ferguson, Sinclair B. Let’s Study Mark. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark. NIGTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Horne, Mark. The Victory According to Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.

Keller, Timothy. Jesus the King. New York, NY: Penguin, 2011.

O’Connor, Flannery. “Revelation.” In The Complete Short Stories. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962. Complete Set Published 1971. Pages 488-509.

Schmidt, T. E. “Taxes.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Wilkins, Michael J.  Introduction and notes to Matthew in The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Wright, N.T. Mark for Everyone. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

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