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 2:15-17

“See! I told you so!” You can almost see the sneers among the scribes when they saw that Jesus was sitting at dinner with Levi and his friends. “There goes the neighborhood!”

They were Levi’s friends. He was a tax collector. His friends were tax collectors. And because they weren’t exactly at the center of social adulation, they naturally attracted other nefarious types in their circle of friends.

This story reminds me of conversations I had with my Lutheran grandmother. I met her when I was in high school. She was a wonderful woman. A farm wife. Mother of four. School teacher every winter. Hard, hard worker. And faithfully in church, singing in the choir, every weekend. She lived a couple of miles outside of a little North Dakota town with a population of less than 500 people.

I remember listening to her stories and it was clear that she divided the world around her into distinct groups. First, there was the Lutherans and the Catholics. Then there were the people grouped either by profession or geographical proximity. “So and so, he works at the bank…” or “So and so, you know, they live over by the Johnson’s…”

She would tell me stories about people and it was clear to me who ranked at the bottom of the totem pole. “You know, he goes to the bar” she would say with a little tsk of distain. Never once did she mention that she lived less than 30 miles from the Spirit Lake Sioux reservation or ever include a story that included a Native American.

But I always noticed. I always noticed how my stomach constricted a bit when she talked about the people “who went to the bar.” Over in the other corner of my world, 190 miles away where I lived with my mom, my mom and all of her friends “went to the bar.” Other than the farmer I worked for, all the adults I knew well, “went to the bar.”

I don’t suppose it ever occurred to my grandma how surgically she drew a line between herself, her circles, and those who “went to the bar.” I doubt she would welcome or understand a real conversation about “white privilege.” She never mentioned a Native American, but if she had, I know it would have come with some painful adjectives attached. And had she ever heard about the kind of red-lining that went on in big cities to isolate non-WASP people, she wouldn’t have drawn a similar line down the highway to the reservation.

Jesus went home with Levi for dinner. He sat with the “bar people”. Can you see him there? Laughing, eating, drinking, telling jokes, enjoying himself with his new-found friends? He, the star of the show, finding his home among the outcasts. Where he was welcomed and not judged.

I wonder what my grandma would say about that?

Let us pray: Jesus, you sat with sinners. You ate with the despised. Was it because you felt at home there, knowing that you also were despised by those who judged your new friends? Lord help us, when we feel something uncomfortable rising within us at the thought or mention of those whose lives look different than our own, to recognize that the sickness lies within us rather than the diversity of your creation. Heal us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.



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  1. David Armstrong Says:


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