The calling of Levi (3 of 4)
And when the scribes¹ and Pharisees²
saw him eat with publicans³ and sinners⁴,
they said unto his disciples⁵,
How⁶ is it that he eateth and drinketh
with publicans³ and sinners⁴
¹) In the Bible a scribe is a man learned in the Mosaic law and in the sacred writings, an interpreter, teacher. Scribes examined the more difficult and subtle questions of the law; added to the Mosaic law decisions of various kinds thought to elucidate its meaning and scope, and did this to the detriment of religion.
Since the advice of men skilled in the law was needed in the examination in the causes and the solution of the difficult questions, they were enrolled in the Sanhedrin; and are mentioned in connection with the priests and elders of the people.
²) A sect that seems to have started after the Jewish exile. In addition to Old Testament books the Pharisees recognised in oral tradition a standard of belief and life.
They sought for distinction and praise by outward observance of external rites and by outward forms of piety, and such as ceremonial washings, fastings, prayers, and alms giving; and, comparatively negligent of genuine piety, they prided themselves on their fancied good works.
They held strenuously to a belief in the existence of good and evil angels, and to the expectation of a Messiah; and they cherished the hope that the dead, after a preliminary experience either of reward or of penalty in Hades, would be recalled to life by him, and be requited each according to his individual deeds.
In opposition to the usurped dominion of the Herods and the rule of the Romans, they stoutly upheld the theocracy and their country’s cause, and possessed great influence with the common people.
According to Josephus they numbered more than 6000. They were bitter enemies of Jesus and his cause; and were in turn severely rebuked by him for their avarice, ambition, hollow reliance on outward works, and affection of piety in order to gain popularity.
³) A tax gatherer, collector of taxes or tolls, one employed by collection of taxes. The tax collectors were as a class, detested not only by the Jews, but by other nations also, both on account of their employment and of the harshness, greed, and deception, with which they did their job.
⁴) All wicked men, specifically of men stained with certain definite vices or crimes; generally everyone who is not free from sin.
⁶) Who, which, what
From other translations:
And the scribes [belonging to the party] of the Pharisees, when they saw that He was eating with [those definitely known to be especially wicked] sinners and tax collectors, said to His disciples, Why does He eat and drink with tax collectors and [notorious] sinners? [AMP] 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?" [ESV] The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: "What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riff-raff?" [MSB] And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? [KJV] When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" [NIV] But when some of the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with people like that, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with such scum?" [NLT] 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?" [NKJV]
Now let us see what this verse is telling us.
The scribes of the Pharisees
This is the correct text. Cf. “their scribes” in Luke 5:30 .
Matthew gave a great reception (Luke 5:29 ) in his house ( Mark 2:15 ).
These publicans and sinners not simply accepted Levi’s invitation, but they imitated his example “and were following Jesus”.
It was a motly crew from the standpoint of these young theologues, scribes of the Pharisees, who were on hand, being invited to pick flaws if they could.
It was probably in the long hall of the house where the scribes stood and ridiculed Jesus and the disciples, unless they stood outside, feeling too pious to go into the house of a publican.
It was an offence for a Jew to eat with Gentiles as even many of the early Jewish Christians felt (Acts 11:3) and publicans and sinners were regarded like Gentiles (1 Corinthians 5:11).
The Jewish leaders constantly watch Jesus closely to see and hear whether He is maybe doing or saying something that is against the law. Of these are now called the scribes (these were the theologians who were interpreters of scripture by trade), and the Pharisees (these were scholars of a political-religious tendency, whose aim was to follow the law as closely as possible). These have now seen that Jesus eats and thus associates with tax collectors and sinners.
Undoubtedly they did not come inside; that was unheard of by their rules. But they will have seen Jesus go in with all the guests at dinnertime and come out after the meal. Now the Jews had a rule that a student of a rabbi was not allowed to sit at a table in the company of the common people. Because of this act, Jesus loses their esteem.
The Jewish leaders express their displeasure with this fact to the disciples of Jesus. Only later do they address Jesus Himself directly (Mark 2:24). Their question (‘what is it that …?’ Or ‘why …?’) Is again, like in Mark 2:7, not intended as a sincere question, but as an indignant expression of criticism. In effect, they are expressing that Jesus’ behavior is completely inappropriate and incorrect.
It is a question in which the cutting reproach resounds.
Jesus ate with publicans and sinners.
The Pharisees were way above that and so looked down on it from their lofty dignity.
But not Jesus. He came down from heaven and visited a customs house to call out Levi and sit down with Levi in his house with all those fellow tax collectors.
▪︎ He came into the smoke of sinners and sin, of moral corruption.
▪︎ He lived the troubled life of temptation and sorrow.
▪︎ He died the death of sinners, on a cross with a murderer on His left and right side.
What a great love, that even now that He is exalted, and glorified at the right hand of the Father, He prays for us, transgressors, and prepares a place for sinners in the Father’s house. And soon He will even have the sacrament with me.
Can you see the miracle in this, that He eats with sinners?
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