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Acting Cozy with Riffraff

Mark 2:13-17 (NKJV)

Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

My title for this devotional is a “rip off” of Eugene Peterson’s translation of Mark 2:16 in his translation The Message. I often turn to Peterson to see scripture from a different angle or see it fresh. The Pharisees and scribes, the religious experts of the day, looked at Jesus and accused him of being too “cozy with the riffraff.”

The setting for this is the calling of Levi, a tax collector. Levi and his friends were the riffraff that they were pointing to. Most of us know that the tax collectors of this day were agents of the Roman Empire and were considered morally compromised by their very profession. I’m not sure who the modern equivalent would be. I will let you identify those that you feel are morally compromised by their very profession.

Today, I want to ponder with you about the nature of our gatherings whether on Sunday morning (or Saturday evening) for worship or in our small groups. Would anyone have the audacity of accusing us of being “too cozy with the riffraff”?

I think for the most part, our gatherings are gatherings of the “right kind” of people. People that are like us. These people may not be just like us, but we share a lot in common with them from values to behaviors to culture.

Jesus often used the rhetorical device, “you have heard it said _______, but I say to you _________.” He used this to help “reset” the way people, especially his disciples, thought about being the people of God. It was his way of saying, “What you have been taught all your life does not fulfill the expectations of what it means to be a faithful follower. I have a different standard.” I am convinced that it often took years for the disciples to allow this “reset” come to fruition.

When Jesus stopped by Levi’s tax collection booth and said, “follow me” he was challenging the worlds expectations of who could be his follower. Jesus didn’t just talk to Levi, he invited him into the inner circle of disciples. Jesus didn’t just see a “tax collector” who needed to be redeemed, he saw a person who could change the world.

Who are the riffraff that Jesus calls to follow him today? Who are the people that the church has written off that Jesus can and will use to change the world? Who do I overlook because of the blinders I have learned since I was child in Sunday School?

This is one of the humbling things about being involved in camping as long as I have. Sometimes, I see youth who come through our camping program. I am just wondering if anything gets through to them. A couple years later they come back to camp and are awesome group leaders. I’m hesitant to invite them back to camp because they were “that kid.” Then I spend the week in awe at how they relate to the campers.

I think when Jesus is pushing my “reset” button, it is in this area. Who are the people on the fringe that you hang out with? Who are the “Levi’s” in your life?

My prayer for all of us:

Lord, years ago, I said “yes” when you invited me to follow you. Help me to see the people you are inviting today. Help me to be part of your invitation to people who are on the fringe. Help me to see people the way you see them, not as riffraff, but as your next disciples.

Mike Oldham

Ministry and Mission Coach


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