Mercy, not Sacrifice

When Jesus pronounced the paralytic’s sins “forgiven,” he offended the Scribes and Pharisees, the allies of the Temple authorities. He alienated them even further by reaching out to “sinners” considered especially unacceptable by more scrupulously religious Jews. Seeing Jesus eating with “tax collectors” and other “sinners,” they insinuated that he also must be a notorious sinner.

Tax collectors were despised in first-century Jewish society. Their occupation required handling currencies from pagan and Jewish sources, and they interacted with men from all walks of life. Contact with pagan symbols and Gentiles meant they were often in a state of ritual impurity, and patriotic Jews viewed them as collaborators with the Roman government.

Mercy - Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash
[Mercy - Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash]

  • (Mark 2:13-17) - “And he went forth again by the sea, and all the multitude was coming to him, and he began teaching them. And passing by, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting over the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me! And arising, he followed him. And it came to pass that he was reclining in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many, and they began following him. And the Scribes and Pharisees seeing that he was eating with the sinners and the tax collectors began saying to his disciples: He is eating with the tax collectors and sinners! And hearing it, Jesus said to them: No need have the strong of a physician, but they who are sick, I came not to call the righteous but sinners” – (Parallel passages: Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 5:27-32).

The man called ‘Levi’ was probably identical to the 'Matthew' listed in Matthew 9:9. It was common for Jewish men to have two or more names. As a publican, he was in the service of Herod Antipas.

The Romans collected poll and land taxes directly. Taxes on transported goods were farmed out to tax collectors who bid on contracts with the Roman authorities to gather preset amounts. Whatever sums they collected over the contracted amount became their profit.

Observant Jews avoided this kind of employment since it required them to engage in transactions with Gentiles, putting their ritual purity at risk. The actions of Jesus were especially scandalous since he associated with politically objectionable and ceremonially unclean men, and he compounded his offense by eating with tax collectors and “sinners.”

Table fellowship was important to observant Jews, especially the Pharisees, and eating with less observant Jews put their ritual purity at risk. The category of “sinners” might include immoral individuals, but in this case, it included individuals considered ritually impure regardless of any greater moral failures.

The sect of the Pharisees adhered strictly to the Mosaic Law and the developing body of oral traditions that interpreted the regulations of the Torah, the so-called “Tradition of the Elders,” many of which concerned matters of ritual purity (e.g., dietary regulations). So much so, that their traditions went beyond what the Law required.

The priests officiating in the Temple lived under stricter purity requirements than the rest of Israel. The Pharisees desired to implement that same level of ritual purity in their daily lives as well as the lives of all devout Jews.

The concluding statement of Jesus emphasizes that his Messianic Mission was about redemption, not condemnation or destruction. The version in Matthew adds the words - “Go and learn what this means, I WILL HAVE MERCY, AND NOT SACRIFICE, for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Whether forgiving sins or healing the sick and afflicted, Jesus came to redeem lost men and restore them to all God originally intended. On this day, Jesus showed mercy to the paralytic and the tax collector.



RELATED POSTS:
  • His Authority - (He is the Son of Man foreseen by Daniel, the one with absolute authority from Yahweh over the earth)
  • Ritual Purity - (The touch of Jesus cleansed a leper, and the forbidden physical contact did not render him unclean – Mark 1:40-45)
  • Son of Man - (The one like a Son of Man in Daniel is the source of Christ’s self-designation as the Son of Man and his authority to reign)

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