Mark 2

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Levi is Called (13-17)

This account is repeated in Matthew 9:9-13, and Luke 5:27-33. The Levi mentioned here only appears in the parallel account in Luke and is not mentioned as one of the twelve (Brooks 61). The account in Matthew changes the name of the tax collector to Matthew.

This leaves the question of whether Levi and Matthew are the same people, or whether there are two different accounts. If they are different, then this Levi was not one of the twelve, indicating that even those on the outer circle followed Jesus around faithfully. There is some argument about whether it would make sense for someone to have two Jewish names (Matthew and Levi), with some scholars on both sides of the debate. Of course, Matthew is not recorded as being a son of Alphaeus, so even if Levi and Matthew are the same person it does not solve the problem.


Verse 13: Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. (NRSV)

  • That Jesus was heading towards the sea is mentioned only here in Mark and not in any of the other accounts. Note that it does not say that Jesus had arrived yet, however.
  • This probably occurred at Capernaum, where there would have been the first toll station along the journey (Brooks 61).


Verse 14: As 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. (NRSV)

  • ”Walking along” should not be understood with its modern understanding of meandering or taking the slow way. Instead, Jesus was walking because it was the only real way of getting anywhere, and the walking was purposefully heading towards the sea.
  • The only one of the twelve whose father is Alphaeus is James, and because of the incongruity, this bit of information is missing from the parallel account in Luke.
  • Levi is not explicitly mentioned as being a tax collector, just sitting in a booth. This is not to put question in whether he was a tax collector, but probably to be diplomatic because tax collectors were hated.
  • Levi would not have been a Roman tax collector, but one under Antipas. So Levi is probably a customs official (France 132). This would have included the fish which Jesus' followers had been collecting near Capernaum their whole lives.
  • When a Jew became a tax collector they could no longer be a witness in a court session and were kicked out of the synagogue(Lane 102).


Verse 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. (NRSV)

  • There is no explanation as to how Jesus got to eating at Levi's house with these people. It is assumed that Levi invited his friends to show them Jesus, but that is an assumption.
  • The text is a little more vague about whose house this is than the NIV interprets. It says “as he reclined in his house” so “his” could refer to either Jesus or to Levi.
  • ”Having dinner” is more literally “to recline” as Jews apparently reclined on couches for more formal meals (Brooks 62).
  • ”Sinners” is here used not for evil people or even morally bankrupt, but for those who were outcasts because surviving meant they couldn't follow all of the laws (Brooks 62). These people were looked down on by the Pharisees (Lane 104).


Verse 16: When 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?” (NRSV)

  • Pharisees were not evil people. They were a group who were extremely concerned with purity and maintaining all of the laws, both oral and written. This went against everything they strove for their entire lives to maintain.
  • The scribes of the Pharisees would not have been secretaries, but professional scribes within the sect of the Pharisees who were very concerned with following the laws (France 134).
  • Tax collectors who went door to door were ritually unclean, and so Pharisees avoided them and their houses.
    • This group of tax collectors, however, probably did not go door to door and so the problem of eating with them would be moral instead of ritual purity (France 133).
    • The presence of “sinners” however, makes the distinction moot as people ritually unclean were obviously there.
  • The Pharisees were expecting Jesus to maintain their rules as the highest form of personal purity. Jesus was showing his holiness through a completely different system. They couldn't understand that.


Verse 17: When 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.” (NRSV)

  • It doesn't make sense for the Pharisees who hated eating with sinners to have attended the same meal. So it is unclear how Jesus replied to them. Probably there is some time compression going on here.
  • The first half of Jesus' response is a traditional proverb that the Pharisees would have recognized and accepted (Lane 104).
  • Jesus is not saying here who is already righteous.
    • It is unlikely that he would include the Pharisees in this given how scathing Jesus is of them in other places.
    • This is probably more of a statement about how no one is too low to be with rather than a statement about not associated with righteous people or any statement about who was righteous.


Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

 VerseDirectionTopicAudienceOccasionCategory
What's all the Noise1-12This is a skit purely to introduce the story of Jesus' healing of a paralytic. It does not tell the story, but prepares the way.Healing of the ParalyticChildrenChildren's ChurchDramas