Having just reviewed Seth Godin’s Poke the Box on the BookCellar website, what do I open to this morning in my ongoing journey through Mark’s Gospel?
Jesus deliberately choosing bad company.
It’s the second and final “calling” narrative in Mark, similar in location and setting to the call of the fishing brothers (the Sea of Galilee, teaching ministry and large crowds) but differing in the subject who is called, namely Levi the tax collector. To call fishermen would be unexpected, a surprise. I can hear the religious elite types shaking their heads and clucking their tongues as they murmured, “Whatever!” But for him to summon a tax collector into the intimate circle of his immediate followers would not only have been unexpected, it would have been completely unacceptable.
As R.T. France observes, to call a telones (tax collector) to join his group was “a daringly provocative action, not only incurring the disapproval of the religious establishment, but also risking giving offence to the patriotic instincts of the common people. Jesus’ disdain for the restraints which scribal convention place on contacts with the religiously disreputable is then put beyond doubt by his going on to join a gathering of other such social outcasts in the house of his new recruit.”
Talk about poking the box!
I love how Levi quite literally just pops into the story. No warm-up. No invitation to a six-month class on church doctrine to see if he would qualify for the group. No. One minute he’s doing his business, collecting tolls and taxes and generally alienating his fellow countrymen, and the next he’s invited to step out and commence a new journey with two simple words from Jesus: Follow me.
Those two words are “akolouthei moi” in the Greek; but it’s the Hebrew equivalent that jumps out at me: “Lek acharei.” You see, those are essentially the same words that Abram heard one night, one morning, one afternoon while he sat at whatever sort of booth he was at: “Lek lecha” – roughly translated “Go” or “Come,” depending on your perspective.
What a kicker to realize that the invitation to follow Jesus as a disciple is nothing more than Abram’s call to go out to a place sight unseen as the trusting friend of God. And what a kicker to realize that Jesus doesn’t care who thinks what about him calling you or him calling me.
What an invitation for us to be equally scandalous in extending God’s grace, to call the unexpected and the unacceptable – an then to join them around their table.
Once more from R.T. France: “The alienation between Jesus and the establishment is not a matter of misunderstanding or misrepresentation on the part of his opponents, but derives directly from his own deliberately chosen stance, which he has no intention of modifying in the face of their entirely predictable objections. Jesus’ acceptance of the unacceptable serves not only the negative purpose of showing up the hostility and narrow exclusivism of the scribes, but also the positive purpose of indicating the revolutionary nature of the new situation in the kingdom of God.”
Yes, Jesus poked the tax collector’s box. Big time. And maybe, just maybe, he’s poking you and me today with his own revolutionary, “Lek acharei” – the call to stop fitting in, playing it safe, rolling over yet again. The call to get up and start – or start again – the Journey.