Our Bible study group started a study of Mark yesterday. Mark is everyman's gospel (generic language, not intended to be gender exclusive -- everyman just rolls off the tongue more smoothly than every person) ... the Reader's Digest gospel. Even though Mark starts when Jesus is an adult -- he leaves out the birth narratives and any mention of Jesus' childhood -- I think it's a great place to start reading the Bible because it moves and doesn't get into a lot of theological discussion. Mark presents Jesus as he lived.
Next Sunday, our group is going to look at Mark 2. So, this morning, I read through that chapter again and was struck by verses 13-17, particularly verse 15:
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. (New International Version) [Bob's comment: Note that the NIV puts sinners in quotes -- the context leads me to believe that these dinner guests were sinners in the eyes of the religious establishment. All of us are sinners by God's standards.]
The Message, a modern interpretation, states it this way:
Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers.
I was struck by how different that particular dinner party was than many Christian dinner parties I've attended or [gulp] we've hosted. I'm currently reading the book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman of Barna Research, so I'm perhaps more attuned to this than normal. Why did many follow Jesus? I think the NIV translation means many people of all sorts followed Jesus, not just the good folks like Peter, James, John and crowd (though, a really good argument could be made that few of them would have been considered good folks by the religious establishment -- we've sainted them since the first century). I think they followed Jesus because he truly cared about them and he showed it. Jesus never backed away from calling people to stop sinning (see John 8:1-11, particularly Jesus' statement to the woman in verse 11) but he always loved them and was always willing to spend time with them.
What's the point? Those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus have not done a good job of really loving all people. We either tend to be exclusive in our friendships -- spending most of our time and energy on people who are like us -- or we tend to at least appear to make friendships with people just because of a desire to convert rather than because we're motivated by love. I want to challenge believers (myself included) to be like Jesus.
Run (and live) well, y'all,