By Rick McVicar
The second chapter of Mark’s Gospel has Jesus reaching out to an unlikely character, a tax collector named Levi son of Alphaeus (2:13-17, NIV).
The meeting comes while Jesus is traveling along a lake shore, following the healing of a paralyzed man. As mentioned in a previous blog, Mark often places Jesus near bodies of water. Jesus asks Levi to follow him, and the tax collector does so. The two then go to Levi’s house, where a dinner is shared among Jesus’ disciples and “many tax collectors and sinners” (2:15, NIV). The meal offends some Pharisees who happen to witness the meal.
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In this story, Jesus shows no concern over the collection of taxes. A tax revolt cannot be led with sayings of Jesus. Instead, we may have the beginnings of a call for environmental justice. After all, taxes have a lot to do with how the environment is treated, especially with the building of water works. Infrastructure depends on taxes. Unfortunately, toxic infrastructure facilities, such as sewer plants, are often located in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods.
In sharing a meal with people who Pharisees consider as being undesirable, Jesus demonstrates a concern for those who are left on the wrong side of railroad tracks, walls and landfills. After all, those structures are often designed to keep the undesirables at a safe distance. Often times. the difference of those on the other side depends on race.
Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus reaches out to several people who are considered undesirable, sometimes literally. After all, Jesus touches a man with leprosy to provide a healing before the meeting with Levi (1:40-45m NIV). Mark’s Gospel repeatedly drives home a message of inclusion, equity and diversity.