Bible Study 1.16.12, 1.19.12, 1.22.12 For Worship 1.29.12

Bible Study 1.16.12, 1.19.12, 1.22.12 For Worship 1.29.12

Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32

Matthew 9:9-13

Mark 2:13-17

Luke 5:27-32

Matthew 9:9  As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

10  And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.

11  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12  But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

13  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:13  He went out again beside the sea; and all the crowd gathered about him, and he taught them.

14  And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15  And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting 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.”

Luke 5:27  After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.”

28  And he left everything, and rose and followed him.

29  And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them.

30  And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31  And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;

32  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

COMMENTARY

Today we will examine three “parallel” stories from the synoptic gospels.  Scholars refer to these stories as “parallels” because they are essentially the same narrative.  After examining them it will be up to us to decide whether or not we believe they are indeed the same story.  All three passages involve the calling of a tax collector to become a disciple of Jesus.  Matthew names the tax collector Matthew, Mark calls him Levi the son of Alphaeus, and Luke just Levi.  In all three passages the tax collector is sitting in the tax office, possibly a toll booth to collect customs at the border between the Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas and Herod Phillip.  In all three passages Jesus says, “follow me.”  In Matthew and Mark the Tax Collector rose and followed, in Luke he, “left everything,” when he rose and followed.

In all three passages the tax collector prepared a meal attended by Jesus, and this leads to criticism of Jesus for eating with Tax Collectors and Sinners.  In Matthew the Pharisees offer the criticism, in Mark the scribes of the Pharisees, and Luke it is the “Pharisees and their scribes.”  In each passage the criticisms are directed to Jesus’ disciples.  Presumably the criticisms reach the ears of Jesus, and he responds with a double saying:   “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Matthew inserts a third saying:  “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'”

The content of all three versions of the story are so similar almost all scholars agree it is the same story repeated in each of the gospels.  Some scholars ask the question however, if Mark was the first Gospel written down, then why didn’t Matthew and Luke simply copy?  Why aren’t all three versions exactly the same?   Three principle explanations are offered for the differences between the gospels. The first reason for the varying versions might be differences in the audiences for whom Matthew, Mark and Luke were writing. Matthew was probably writing for a Jewish-Christian audience that was being expelled from the Synagogues of Galilee.  That may account for the Pharisees, rather than their scribes being identified as the source of the criticism, and the insertion of the extra saying:  “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'”

Another explanation for the differences in the three texts is that if Mark was written down first, Matthew and Luke may have heard Mark’s gospel read, but they did not have a written copy in front of them.  Thus they were working from memory, and that might account for differences in word order and selection.

The third explanation for some of the differences between the gospel account might be traced to the possibility that while Matthew and Luke had written copies of Mark available to them, the copies were still different.  Scribes who copied texts many times deviated from the text from which they were copying.  This was a time before Xerox machines, and the culture was not concerned about exact copies.  In many instances, scribes would intentionally use different words in their copying, if they felt the meaning more suited their theology.  In fact we have dozens and dozens of early manuscripts of the books of the New Testament no two of which are exactly the same.  Our English translations are based upon scholarly readings of many different manuscripts.

Matthew, Mark and Luke are so similar I think we can seek a generalized understanding of all three passages.  Jesus was noted for eating with “tax collectors and sinners.”  Table fellowship was incredibly important in the ancient world especially in Judaism that was developing rigorous food taboos.  People were separated by nationality and class in the act of eating.  For instance, good Jews would not eat with gentiles, because contact with non-Jews made one ritually unclean.  Tax collectors were considered ritually unclean both because their profession involved them in bribery and extortion, and also because many tax collectors were required to have contact with gentiles.

John preached to tax collectors, but Jesus actually included tax collectors in his inner circle.  Those Jews who were moving in the direction of more strict observance of the law would have been scandalized by this practice.  The early First Century in Israel was still a fluid time in the development of the Pharisees as a movement.  Jesus may even have been accounted a Pharisee by early First Century standards.  As the early church and the synagogue found themselves in competition, especially after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. the Pharisees who remained loyal to the synagogue centered their faith around a rigorous observance of the Law.  Thus Jewish identity became identified with “orthopraxy.”

The strict keepers of the food taboos probably would not have entered the home of the tax collector.  The picture is Jesus inside the house with the Pharisees standing outside the door of the house looking in and offering their criticisms to disciples who were near the door.

At first glance the “sayings” of Jesus are not critical of orthopraxy.  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  If the Pharisees were genuinely righteous, then Jesus was not criticizing them, he was just saying that his message was not for them.  On the other hand, the followers of Jesus are warned against “self-righteousness” standing in judgment upon others.  Jesus’ Commonwealth of God is open to all people who are willing to embrace the way of love and sharing.  The “self-righteous” then were understood to be among the “sick” who need a physician.  The problem with the self-righteous is they do not know they are sick and therefore cannot avail themselves of the cure.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. Where did Jesus find the tax collector?

2. What is his invitation to the tax collector?

3. What was the response of the tax collector?

4. Who all did the tax collector invite to his house for dinner?

5. How do you account for the differences in the name of the tax collector disciple?

6. What was the essence of the criticism of the Pharisees about Jesus?

7. How did Jesus respond to the criticism?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. Can you think of any modern parallels to inviting tax collectors and sinners to be disciples?

2. Do you think Jesus understood including tax collectors in his inner circle would create a controversy?  If so, why do you think he did it anyway?

3. If Jesus came to our town, who do you think he would invite to “follow him

4. Have you ever been asked why your church doesn’t believe or practice the same things other churches believe or practice?

5. Can you think of any modern taboos in our culture?

6. What does it mean to intentionally violate a taboo?

7. How do you interpret Jesus’ sayings:  “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners?”

8. How do you think the church might better follow Jesus?

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