Mark 2: 13-22
13 Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
15 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. 16When 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?’ 17When 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.’
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ 19Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
21 ‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’
Well, its Super Bowl Sunday.
Time to reminisce a bit about our favorite team that is not playing.
The Pittsburgh Steelers.
Purchased by Art Rooney in 1933, the Steelers were rarely a winning team.
They did not have a winning record until 1942.
They did not have a playoff game until 1947, which they lost 21-0 to the Eagles.
They would not return to the playoffs for 25 years.
That would be 1972, or course.
That was followed by four Super Bowl Championships, twice back to back, from 1974-1979.
Chuck Noll became the coach in 1969.
When Noll showed up several things happened.
First, Noll was in charge of the draft.
From 1969 to 1974 he drafted Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Mike Webster.
Not too shabby.
But what might have been more important, he brought a new way of coaching.
Rocky Bleier put it this way:
Chuck loved teaching moments, but he wasn’t an orator or a motivator. Chuck would say, “It’s not my job to hold your hand. It’s my job to take motivated people and show them how to become better.”
And what made people better?
[Noll said] habits are created every day in practice, and they carry over to the game … In the third and fourth quarter, you don’t think; you react.
When Noll died, Art Rooney II said this;
“Chuck knew where he was, where he was going, where he wanted to go and how to do it. He had a very, very strong moral compass.”
Noll showed up in 1969 and there was a new authority in charge.
A new sheriff in town.
It was a new day.
A new way.
And Steeler Nation was born.
Which, interestingly enough, is what Jesus did.
He was the new authority in charge.
The new sheriff in town.
The one bringing a new day.
A new way.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have been following Mark’s description of Jesus’ early ministry.
Jesus was breaking down barriers.
We saw Jesus touch and heal a leper and so get rid of the idea that old ritualistic rules determined a person’s status in the community.
We saw Jesus forgive a man’s sins and so reject the authority of religious leaders in the Temple stand between God and humanity.
And now we see Jesus welcome even the most despised folks into his family of disciples!
Levi, the tax collector.
Again, Jesus is casting off the old ways of discrimination for the new ways of inclusion.
Jesus is not revising the ancient laws, he is announcing they no longer apply.
And then he tells us to celebrate.
A new sheriff in town indeed!
That is the lesson of today’s text.
Jesus breaks down the barriers.
It’s a new day.
It’s a new way.
So, let’s take is scene by scene.
Jesus is out walking along the shore in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee.
Maybe right after the paralytic was healed.
The whole crowd was with him and he was still teaching.
He comes across a toll collector sitting in his booth.
This guy was the lowest of the low.
Levi would have “leased” his toll booth from the Romans by paying up front the annual tolls he was expected to collect.
He would then charge whatever he wanted and keep any excess.
Like driving on the turnpike and having the toll collector decide what you owe based on the kind of car you drive.
It was little better than theft.
Toll collectors were considered so untrustworthy that they were not permitted to testify in a court proceeding.
On top of that, Levi would have been considered a traitor to Israel because he was collaborating with the Romans.
This guy was ritually unclean and a social pariah.
So what does Jesus do?
He asks Levi to become a disciple.
And guess what.
Can you imagine what the folks were saying?
The tax collector?
Jesus is having dinner with tax collectors, “sinners” (moral reprobates, impure Jews or Gentiles), and his many disciples.
At Levi’s house.
It is not just sharing a meal, it’s a dinner party!
A celebratory or ceremonial meal.
A welcome banquet for Levi?
A celebration of the new way?
Around the perimeter of the gathering, there are scribes, likely sent by the Pharisees to keep an eye on Jesus.
It is unclear whether they have been invited to the dinner or just watch from afar.
But this we know, they are puzzled.
They have a question for some disciples nearby.
If Jesus is a good Jew, why would he eat with these depraved people?
Jesus overhears the question.
I have this image of him raising his eyes and muttering, “Are we back to that again?”
“How can I get them to understand?”
‘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.’
An interesting turn of a phrase.
How would the scribes interpret this?
My professor and friend Bonnie Thurston, puts it this way:
Those who have no need for a doctor, the righteous, are those who keep the law, and are already in in a proper relationship with God.
Those folks don’t need Jesus.
Those who do have need for a doctor, the sinners, are those who don’t or can’t keep the law, and are the ones Jesus has come to call back to God.
Those folks really do need Jesus.
Which are you, you scribes?
Either way, you are all welcome here.
I take everyone, Jesus says.
Even these … what you call … corrupt folks.
That is the new way.
In God’s Kingdom, God’s table is open to all, regardless of class, religious identity or purity status.
Jesus is approached by another group with a challenge.
The Pharisees fast and John’s disciples fast, but Jesus and his disciples have dinner parties!
“What’s with that?”
First, we need to understand a bit about fasting for the Pharisees and disciples of John.
These people were what Gary Charles calls members of renewal movements.
Folks who were waiting for the initiation of God’s reign.
You know, the Messiah.
They fasted (from more than just food) to purify themselves in anticipation of God’s reign.
Maybe they thought they could make it happen sooner.
Or maybe they just wanted to be ready.
If that is why people fasted, why would Jesus disciples fast?
There was no need.
The reign of God had come.
Jesus, the Messiah, was right there.
Its not time to fast, its time to feast!
Its kind of like the bridegroom at the wedding feast.
While the happy couple is there, it is joy and celebration.
Only when they depart is there any reason to stop the celebration.
If Jesus is the bridegroom, it’s time to feast!
Everyone should keep celebrating until Jesus is gone … which will happen soon enough, buy the way.
That is how Levi can become a disciple!
And why we should celebrate.
Its how we become disciples, too.
Everyone is welcome into the Kingdom of God.
It is here right now.
God was near.
God was here.
His name is Jesus.
There was indeed a new sheriff in town.
And we should all celebrate!
We should celebrate God’s presence In Jesus.
We should celebrate Levi’s discipleship.
We should celebrate everyone’s discipleship.
This is the new way!
And this new way does not fit into the old ways.
Jesus’ new way tears apart the old ways.
Just like a new patch on an old shirt or new wine in an old wineskin do not work, we need understand Jesus as the new covenant God offers.
We need to move on from the old covenant and move into the new.
Jesus came to take motivated people, like us, and show them, and us, how to become better.
This is why we read this text in the season of Epiphany.
This is a new revelation from God!
This is a new revelation of God!
It is indeed a new day, and a new way.
And we acknowledge this new covenant at this table.
The table where Jesus eats with all of us.
Just as we announce here at before communion:
Come to this table, those who have much faith and those who want more.
Come to this table those who have been here often, and those who have not been here for a long time.
Come to this table, those who have tried to follow Jesus and like the rest of us have so often failed.
Come tax collectors, sinners, scribes and disciples.
Come all of you.
Jesus welcomes you to his table, to celebrate, and remember.
It really is a new day.
It really is a new way.