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Mark’s first-century biography – page 6

And as he (Jesus, c. AD 27, Capernaum, Galilee) reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  

The house in question where Jesus was that of Levi, the tax-farmer. Jesus had called him, saying to him personally, while he was actually at his tax office, “Follow me.” Tax farmers collected taxes from the people and always collected more than was required by the Roman authorities. The tax-farmer paid Rome up front and collected additional amounts so as to make a profit for himself. To the “scribes of the Pharisees” (experts in Jewish Law who were also members of a religious-political party) such people were traitors. Many of these traitors came to Levi’s house for the evening meal and were accompanied by other “sinners”. 

The Pharisaical scribes didn’t approach Jesus about this. They raised the matter with his disciples. “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” What possible reason could there be for eating with such people? 
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

A few days earlier Jesus had said to a paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Earlier that day, he had said to traitor-sinner Levi, “Follow me.” Now he states clearly his strategic purpose. “I have come to call those who are “sick”, those who are “sinners”. 

Jesus used two different Greek words to describe the “sick” and the “sinners”. The adverb “sick” was kakos (sick, evil, harmed); The noun “sinner” was hamartolos which includes a shortfall in righteousness, law or morality. 

‘Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven; whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.’ (King David after receiving forgiveness from the LORD God for adultery and murder. c. BC 990)
Jesus came to call these. Call - and forgive anything. 

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?” 

Both groups were fasting – abstaining from food – on that particular day. Why? What was the point? One of the ancient Scriptures of Israel is a book called “Leviticus”. Written around 1350 BC, it contains many instructions to Israelites. One instruction was to fast annually on the Day of Atonement. 

Was it a particular sin which required atonement? Prior to entering the Promised Land around 1350BC, when Moses was away, they had pooled all their precious things to form a golden calf. They had worshipped it and praised it for bringing them out of slavery in Egypt! Annual fasting in AD 27 expressed sorrow for that turning away from the LORD God - and sought atonement – forgiveness - for it.

And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests (literally, “sons of the bridal chamber”) fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” 

Jesus (and Mark) used the word “bridegroom” three times and the related word “bridal chamber” once. But how does this connect with not “fasting”

In first-century Judaism the first marriage ceremony (erusin in Hebrew) took place maybe a year before the second (nissuin), followed then by consummation. The erusin was a time of great giving – especially by the bridegroom to the bride. In between the two events the bridegroom went away and prepared a new home for his wife-to-be. When all was ready, he came back to fetch her and the nissuin began. 

‘In that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal’ (i.e. ‘My Master’”).’ (The LORD God’s message to his people through Hosea c. BC 720)
Jesus was asking his critics to re-think the situation – to realise that they were at an erusin. He, as the bridegroom (along with his disciples, “sons of the bridechamber”), was engaged in giving to his bride-to-be. His news was good news. Giving and celebrations, not fasting, marked his presence on earth.

Sinner Syvret

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