Mark 2:13-22


Jesus' response successfully rebuts the Scribe's challenge by quoting an ancient proverb. This is a double victory because it demonstrates Jesus' knowledge of wisdom lore, and his ability to think on his feet - to use popular knowledge to come up with a witty, punchy reply. Score 2 for Jesus; 0 for the Scribes.

Year B
Epiphany 8

Sunday Between February 25 and March 3 Inclusive OR
Sunday Between February 25 and March 2 Inclusive in Leap Years
Not used if assigned date follows Ash Wednesday.
May be replaced by Transfiguration Sunday if the assigned date is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.



Year B

Sunday between May 24 and May 28 inclusive,
if following Trinity Sunday
Proper 3, Ordinary Time 8

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 2:13-22, The Message   or   Mark 2:13-22, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required. Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart,"


In Chapter 1 of Mark, we learned that Jesus' reputation began to spread throughout the region of Galilee because he taught as one with authority - unlike the Scribes - and because of his ability to heal.

In Chapter 2, the Scribes and others begin to challenge Jesus - to try and put him back in his place as a backwoods peasant. And we learn more of Jesus' teachings as he responds to these challenges.

Today's lesson has two challenges: one from the Scribes; and one from the disciples of John the Baptist.

We begin by learning that Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, to come and follow him.

And then that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners in his home. (Note: the NRSV translates the Greek for "his" as meaning Levi's home, but it could more likely be understood as Jesus' home.)

As the son of a wood worker, Jesus himself was part of the peasant class. And it is probably the case that Levi was also a poor toll collector, an exploited minion of a chief tax collector (such as Zacchaeus).

But even among the collective peasant class, there were social norms of who associated with who, and especially of who ate with who.

Needless to say, Jesus' behaviour here is violating these social norms.

And as someone who is increasing in public honour, willingly associating with tax collectors and sinners would be seen as poor judgement, and therefore used to discredit Jesus as undeserving of the public's acclaim. This is the motive behind the question of the Scribes:

If this guy is such a hot shot "Holy Man," why is he hanging out with low life?
Doesn't he know who they are?

Jesus' response successfully rebuts their challenge by quoting an ancient proverb. This is a double victory because it demonstrates Jesus' knowledge of wisdom lore, and his ability to think on his feet - to use popular knowledge to come up with a witty, punchy reply. Score 2 for Jesus; 0 for the Scribes.

Then the followers of John the Baptist ask a challenging question.

When is it appropriate to fast? In repentance, sorrow, and grief. John and other apocalyptic prophets fasted as a sign of protest for the evil and corruption of the present age and of sorrow for its impending doom.

But for Jesus?

For Jesus the present age was the moment when the Kingdom of God was at hand. This was a time to celebrate like at a wedding in anticipation of a whole new relationship coming into being.

He was not coming to add something new onto the patchwork cloth of the same old, same old way of doing things.

He has come to bring something new for a whole new reality.

So as followers of Jesus, we learn a couple of things from this lesson:

  • Jesus has once again withstood a challenge from the elite bosses.
    And if he can do it, maybe we can too.
  • We are the beginning of a new age, not the end of the ages.
    And so our outlook is one of joy not fear.

I wonder how the confidence and joy of Jesus is reflected in our congregations today?

David Ewart,,
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.

Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 29-31; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al.

Mark 2:13-22 (NRSV)

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

   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. 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?" 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."

   18 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?" 19 Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

   21 "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins." 

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Mark 2:13-22 (The Message)

   13 Then Jesus went again to walk alongside the lake. Again a crowd came to him, and he taught them. 14 Strolling along, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, at his work collecting taxes. Jesus said, "Come along with me." He came.

   15 Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. 16 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?"

   17 Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit."

   18 The disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees made a practice of fasting. Some people confronted Jesus: "Why do the followers of John and the Pharisees take on the discipline of fasting, but your followers don't?"

   19-20 Jesus said, "When you're celebrating a wedding, you don't skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. As long as the bride and groom are with you, you have a good time. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!"

   21 He went on, "No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. 22 And you don't put your wine in cracked bottles." 

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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